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EDITED BY Clara Thompson, M.D., 
Milton Mazer, M.D. AND Earl Witenberg, MIX 



Selections contained in this volume are: Copyright, 1949, 1950, by W, W, 
Norton 6 Company, Inc.; Copyright, 1949, Orgone Institute Press, Inc.; 
Copyright, 1950, 1951, by The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, Inc.; Copyright, 
1946, 1950, 1952 by The Ronald Press Company; Copyright, 1949, by Her- 
mitage Press, Inc.; Copyright, 1948, by International Universities Press, Jnc^ 
Copyright, 1952, Springer Publishing Company, Inc.; Copyright, 1 950, 1952, 
1953, by The William Alanson White Psychiatric Foundation, Inc.; Copy- 
right, 1947, by Erich Fromm; Copyright, 1936, 1945, by Alfred A. Knopf 9 
Inc.; Copyright, 1941, 1951, by Harper d 1 Brothers; Copyright, 1953, by 
Association for Research in Nervous and Mental Disease. 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 55-6392 

is published by RANDOM HOUSE, INC. 


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Foreword ix 

Introduction xi 



Freud's Formulations 

1 The Theory of the Instincts 5 


2 The Development of the Sexual Function 9 


3 Mental Qualities 14 


The Study of the Ego 

4 On the Technique of Character-Analysis 25 


5 The Genesis of the Superego 39 


6 Toward a Theory of Personality and Neurosis 48 


7 Ego Psychology and Interpretation in Psychoanalytic 
Therapy 77 


v 7164558 




8 Freud's Evolving Theories of Anxiety 97 


9 Psychiatric Aspects of Anxiety 113 



10 Evaluation of Dreams in Psycho- Analytic Practice 137 


11 Dream-Analysis in Its Practical Application 159 

c. G. JUNG 


12 The Psychosomatic Implications of the Primary Unit: 
Mother-Child 185 


13 On Memory and Childhood Amnesia 203 


14 Toys and Reasons 227 


15 Preadolescence 248 


16 Early Adolescence 261 


The Study of Character 

17 Character and Anal Erotism 277 


Contents vn 


18 Individual Psychology, Its Assumptions and Its 
Results 283 


19 Contributions to the Theory of the Anal Character 298 


20 Selfishness, Self-Love, and Self-interest 320 


21 Character 338 


22 The Search for Glory 369 


23 The Feminine Character 386 


24 Some Effects of the Derogatory Attitude Towards 
Female Sexuality 409 


ill HERAP Y 

Goals of Therapy 

25 The Final Goal of Psycho-analytic Treatment 423 


26 Analysis of the Therapeutic Factors in Psychoanalytic 
Treatment 436 


27 The Basis of a Will Therapy 455 


viii Contents 


Transference and CouittertransieFence 

28 On Transference of Emotions 471 


29 The Transference Phenomenon in Psychoanalytic 
Therapy 485 


30 The Transference Phenomenon 503 


31 Transference and Character Analysis 527 


32 Countertransference and Anxiety 539 


The Psychoanalytic Process 

33 Psychoanalytic Therapy 565 


34 Recent Advances in Psychoanalytic Therapy 593 


Glossary 615 


In 1924 the Modern Library published a collection of im- 
portant psychoanalytic contributions entitled Outline of Psy- 
choanalysis edited by J. S. van Teslaar. At that time psycho- 
analysis was just beginning to be a subject of Interest to the 
informed layman. The book was timely and represented well 
the theoretical and practical contributions of psychoanalysis 
up to that point. But psychoanalysis has continued to grow 
and change since that time. It has entered new fields of study 
of the human personality and a vast literature has accumu- 
lated. In 1924 in the United States only one psychoanalytic 
journal existed, while today at least five journals published 
quarterly are devoted to the field of psychoanalysis. In addi- 
tion, two psychiatric journals also publish psychoanalytic 
articles from time to time. There are many new books pre- 
senting the subject both for those in the professional field 
and for the informed layman. The task of collecting an 
anthology is therefore much more arduous than it was in 
1924, and, although it has not been possible to include 
writings from all the outstanding contributors to present-day 
psychoanalysis, an attempt has been made to make the volume 
truly representative of psychoanalytic thinking today. 

An anthology serves a special purpose. By presenting the 
views of many authors it gives the reader an opportunity 
to see and evaluate for himself the many approaches which 
go to make up a science such as psychoanalysis. In this an- 
thology we attempt to bring the reader up to date. We have 
especially emphasized the changes in theory and therapeutic 
goals which have developed in the last thirty years. 


The Development of Psychoanalysis 

If psychiatry was once called the stepchild of medicine, psycho- 
analysis was certainly the stepchild of psychiatry. One of Freud's 
bitter disappointments in the early years of his work was the 
lack of interest and often open hostility for his theories on the 
part of his medical colleagues. Today this has disappeared in 
most informed medical circles. Instruction in psychoanalytic 
theory has become a part of the curricula of many medical 
schools as well as of other graduate departments of universities. 
Its principles are used by social workers, teachers, lawyers and 
ministers as well as by psychologists and psychiatrists. Psycho- 
analysis has gained the attention of the public. It has achieved 
a position not only of popularity but of respect and status. At 
the same time it has continued to be a growing expanding 
science. There have been far-reaching changes in its theory, 
therapeutic techniques and goals of treatment. Its various stages 
have developed out of the preceding ones as knowledge of the 
dynamics of the human personality has grown. 

It is now nearly seventy years since Freud first started his 
study of the causes and cure of the neuroses. In 1885, after 
making important contributions to organic neurology, Freud be- 
came interested in the functional neuroses. After brief study with 
Charcot, the outstanding hypnotist of his time, he became associ- 
ated with Breuer in Vienna and continued his efforts to cure 
functional neuroses by hypnosis. The two men came to the con- 
clusion that neurotic symptoms were produced by the repression 
of unpleasant or painful memories or affects. These repressed 
experiences, seemingly forgotten, remained unconscious, influ- 
encing the personality until they were brought back into con- 
sciousness and re-experienced under the influence of hypnosis. 


xii Introduction 

In many cases this caused the symptoms to disappear. However, 
it sometimes happened that a patient could not be hypnotized. 
In the course of trying to help such a person Freud and the 
patient made the discovery of the psychoanalytic method of 
free association which remains one of the chief tools of psycho- 
analytic inquiry, although more active techniques have also been 
developed. In free association the patient reports without censor- 
ship whatever goes through his mind. No exceptions are to be 
made; it matters not whether the thoughts are painful, em- 
barrassing, inconsequential or important. All must be said. If 
this is done results similar to those achieved under hypnosis are 
obtained. It soon became apparent that free association was a 
very difficult thing to persuade a patient to do. Interruptions of 
the flow of associations repeatedly occurred. Freud soon recog- 
nized these as resistances and concluded that resistance was pro- 
duced by the same sort of attitude which had caused the patient 
to put the experience out of his mind in the first place. Thus 
shame, guilt, fear of disapproval seemed especially potent mo- 
tives for forgetting and/or blocking the attempt to recaU. Freud 
concluded from his cases that repression of early sexual experi- 
ence could always be shown to be the cause of the neurosis. At 
first he thought that the sexual traumata reported by his patients 
were genuine, but about 1900 he began to doubt this; at least 
it was apparent that not all people suffering from neurosis had 
been exposed to actual sexual traumata. 

This led him to an investigation of the sexual life of the child 
and to his discoveries of the erotic component in the pregenital 
activities of children which have had a far-reaching eifect on 
the understanding and education of children. However, when the 
pregenital sex life of the patient becomes the main focus of 
therapy it tends to concentrate his attention on reconstructing 
his past at the expense of understanding his disturbed present. 
Neither the past nor the present should be the main interest of 
the psychoanalyst. The terms themselves imply a dichotomy that 
does not exist, for personality is an evolving continuum. 

Freud gradually succeeded in interesting some fertile mindt: 
in his theories. Among them were Abraham, Adler, Ferencxi, 
Jones, and Jung, to mention only a few. But Adler and Juang 

Introduction xiii 

were skeptical of some of Freud's theories, especially his theory 
of the sexual etiology of the neuroses. By 1910 their disagree- 
ments were becoming more obvious. Freud himself was beginning 
to turn his attention to an aspect of the personality which he had 
neglected until this time, the self-preservation (or ego) drive. 
From this point on psychoanalysis concerned itself less with 
symptoms and more with understanding the total personality. 
Adler made a significant contribution to this although his ap- 
proach was oversimplified. He was the first pupil of Freud to 
disagree with him so extensively that they could no longer work 
together. He left the Freudian group in 1911 and established his 
own school. Adler differed with Freud in two main respects: he 
denied the importance of sex in the etiology of the neuroses and 
in its place he saw the "will to power" as the great neurosis- 
producing drive in man. He thought that the goals that the indi- 
vidual was seeking were more potent sources of difficulty than 
traumatic experiences in the past. Thus he placed relatively little 
emphasis on the recall of early childhood experiences and a 
great deal of emphasis on the current motivations. In a sense 
he was the first person to suggest a method of character analysis. 
Jung's disagreement with Freud also centered around denial of 
the sexual etiology of the neuroses. He saw libido as a vital force 
not necessarily sexual in origin. He felt that Freud had not suffi- 
ciently stressed the "higher" nature of man and he believed that 
many difficulties were due to inability to achieve "self-realiza- 
tion." He recognized the importance of early childhood but did 
not see the early ties to the parents as primarily sexual. Rather 
he saw the early dependency on the mother as based on her food- 
providing role. During the first years of his association with 
Freud he made contributions to Freudian theory but by 1913 
his thinking differed so widely from Freud's that he left the 
Freudian group and eventually established his own school. 

In the course of his study of the total personality, Freud began 
to note aspects of behavior which were not readily explained by 
his theory that man is dominated by the pleasure principle, 
namely, that he seeks constantly to free himself from tension 
and to achieve satisfaction. He also began to question whether 
^pressed libido was the sole source of neurotic difficulties. He 

xlv Introduction 

noted that not all cases of hostile and aggressive behavior could 
be explained as sadistic expression of the libido. He also ob- 
served that there was a tendency for people to get into the same 
types of .difficulty repeatedly, that there seemed to be a tendency 
in man to repeat earlier experiences automatically irrespective 
of whether the experience was pleasant or painful. This drive 
seemed to be a stronger force than the pleasure principle. Freud 
named it the repetition compulsion. By 1920 his ideas of a new 
theory of the instincts became crystallized and were described 
in a book, Beyond the Pleasure Principle. In it he presented for 
the first time the idea of a death instinct which he saw as exist- 
ing side by side with the life instinct. He postulated that these 
two forces are active from birth. The death instinct, which was 
a new idea, he saw as primarily a self-destructive force which 
could be prevented from destroying the individual in two ways. 
It might be turned outwards toward others in the form of hos- 
tility or aggression or it might unite with the life (sexual) instinct 
and become sadism or masochism. By thus erotizing the destruc- 
tive force it lost some of its destructive power, he thought. 
Whether the theoretical explanation is correct or not, the scope 
of psychoanalytic investigation was greatly increased by bring- 
ing into prominence the importance of repressed aggression. The 
concept of the repetition compulsion proved to be another theory 
which was very useful therapeutically. At about the same tiinr 
Freud clarified the function of the ego and divided the human 
personality into three parts, the ego, superego and id. The chap- 
ters in this book on Freud's basic formulations will furthe* 
explain these changes. 

Still another contribution of Freud's in the 1920*s was a new 
theory of anxiety which is summarized in this volume by Rollo 
May. This theory stated clearly for the first time that the at- 
tempt to escape anxiety was at the root of every neurosis. 
Freud had noted earlier that anxiety was often present in neurosis 
but the theory of the dynamic interaction with neurotic symptoms 
was first presented in 1926. This discovery has formed the 
basis for later contributions to theory. The theory, expressed 
in very condensed form, is that anxiety tends to appear when 
tbe instinctual forces within a person threaten his relation to the 

Introduction xv 

outside world, that Is, when he is threatened with loss of love, 
punishment {castration is the term used in classical Freudian 
literature) or social ostracism. In these situations the ego de- 
velops a defense against the anxiety, a defense designed to pre- 
vent the forbidden impulse from expressing itself. The protection 
may be a character trait or symptom. 

It is seen, then, that in the 1920's Freud made several im- 
portant new theoretical formulations which have helped to 
guide psychoanalytic research into new channels. The important 
new theories pertained to the function of the ego, the role of 
anxiety in character and symptom formation, the importance of 
repressed aggression in emotional disorder and the observation 
that people in general tend to repeat earlier patterns in their lives 
even when they are unpleasant or painful (the repetition com- 

Changes in therapeutic technique began to develop at about 
the same time, partly no doubt as a result of the changes in 
theory. A more active method than free association, first stated 
specifically by Reich, later somewhat modified and elaborated 
by Anna Freud, Sullivan and many others, was devised for the 
analysis of character. Free association was not discarded, but 
was seen as one of several possible tools of psychoanalytic treat- 

Another important change concerned the therapeutic use of 
transference. Freud started his work as a hypnotist. One of the 
basic necessities for successful hypnosis is that there should be 
no questioning of the authority of the therapist. The patient gets 
well because he is urged to improve. This attitude was taken 
over in the early days of psychoanalysis in the form of utilizing 
the positive transference of the patient to encourage him toward 
mental health. That is, the patient developed an exaggerated 
confidence in the doctor, making him a benevolent father figure; 
the doctor used this authority to lead the patient to "insight." 
Only when the patient became hostile, that is, had negative trans- 
ference, was there an attempt to point out the irrationality of 
the attitude. The analyst utilized the patient's dependency as a 
means of helping him. This did not always produce the desired 
results and it often fostered dependencies which were difficult 

xvi Introduction 

to resolve. In order to maintain his neutrality the analyst was 
advised to remain as nearly as possible a mirror, that is, to avoid 
any personal involvement, give no information about himself 
and sit behind the patient so that there were few clues to any 
reactions he might have. Ferenczi and Rank, in about 1925, 
were the first to point out, each in somewhat different ways, 
that the therapeutic results of analysis were comparatively un- 
satisfactory because analysis under these conditions was not a 
vital emotional experience. Rank pointed out the authoritarian 
nature of the method. He believed the cure lay in the direction 
of encouraging the patient to rebel against the analyst, to assert 
his counter will. By being able to struggle against the father 
authority (or mother authority), the patient would gain his 

Ferenczi also felt that the destruction of the infallible authori- 
tarian position of the analyst was important. He suggested, as a 
means of bringing this about and making the analytic situation 
a more genuine emotional experience, greater frankness on the 
part of the analyst about himself and his attitudes. He should be 
more ready to admit any mistakes he might make and he should 
not try to work with a patient toward whom he could not feel 
a genuinely friendly attitude of acceptance. Among the contribu- 
tions in this book those of Balint come closest to representing 
Ferenczi's approach. Ferenczi himself published almost nothing 
about the work of his later years. 

Although there was considerable resistance among analysts 
to both Rank's and Ferenczi's ideas of the role of the therapist, 
the attitude toward the patient has been gradually shifting in 
the direction of their views. At least it has changed to the extent 
that the patient's dependency and transference are dealt with 
earlier in treatment and the analyst seeks to avoid and certainly 
does not encourage an authoritarian type of relationship. In the 
course of developing his "will" theory, Rank turned away from 
Freud's instinct theories and in 1925 left the Freudian group. 
In time he developed his own school. 

By 1930 the findings of anthropologists in the study of com- 
parative cultures began to interest a few psychoanalysts. Freud 

Introduction xvii 

himself, in the latter part of the 1920's, had become interested 
in making some application of psychoanalysis to the study of 
society. Other analysts became interested in using the under- 
standing of different cultures to examine the validity of Freudian 
theory. It became apparent to this group that some of man's be- 
havior which Freud had thought biologically determined, that is, 
a part of innate human nature, is in fact a product of the West- 
ern culture and is not present in all societies. For example the 
latency period and the Oedipus complex found very frequently 
in our society are believed by most authorities not to be universal. 
The discovery that society is a constantly changing organization 
made by the people in it and at the same time molding their 
lives has led to increased interest in the interaction of people 
with each other. Sullivan's theory of interpersonal relations 
stresses this. 

In the last twenty-five years much greater emphasis in therapy 
has been placed on understanding and altering the defensive be- 
havior than on recalling memories of traumatic experiences of 
early childhood. There has been less stress on understanding the 
instinct life and more on understanding the defensive system 
than was the case in early psychoanalytic work. What is today 
recognized as the defense system of the ego was called resistance 
in the early years. Effort was exerted to overcome it either 
through suggestion or reassurance. Today understanding the dy- 
namic function of the resistance is used as a means of studying 
the ego, observing how character is formed and how it can be 
changed. The changes in technique which accompany this new 
field of interest are less reliance on free association as a means 
of making conscious the unconscious, greater activity in pointing 
out the ways in which the patients defend themselves, and greater 
concern on the part of therapists about the impact of their own 
personalities in the analyst-patient relationship. This last area of 
research, the study of the importance of the counter transference, 
is currently a subject of great interest. It is the topic about which 
Ferenczi was talking in 1930. At that time openly discussing 
it with a patient was considered a dangerous and revolutionary 
practice. Today we have come to see that the analytic situation 

xviii Introduction 

is an interpersonal one in which the impact of the analyst's per- 
sonality can not and should not be ignored. In fact, his reactions 
have a positive role in curing the patient. 

In this book we have attempted to present characteristic con- 
tributions not only of the classical Freudian school but of all 
other schools which have developed out of a Freudian back- 
ground. The papers have been grouped under the important 
topics of psychoanalysis. With the exception of a few papers of 
great historical importance, the majority of the articles have 
been written in the last thirty years. In other words, this book 
is a presentation of psychoanalysis today. Thus under the head- 
ing "Freud's Formulations" we have Freud's own review of his 
life work as he looked back on it just before his death. The 
papers on "The Study of the Ego" are all relatively recent, 
Reich's being the oldest. This is the first formulation of a tech- 
nique for understanding ego defenses. Under "Anxiety" we 
have included two contemporary writers who together cover 
the writings on the subject, stressing Freud's second theory of 
anxiety, the foundation on which later theories have been 

The most comprehensive and classical work on the interpre- 
tation of dreams is Freud's famous book, written in the 1890's. 
Ella Sharpe presents the present standard Freudian view but 
Jung's contribution has seemed to the editors also noteworthy. 
The papers on "Childhood" are all of very recent origin. Anna 
Freud was one of the first contributors in this field, as was 
Melanie Klein. Their contributions have influenced the writers 

"The Study of Character" is in a sense but an extension of 
'The Study of Ego." Under this heading are presented conclusions 
drawn from clinical material while the earlier topic considered 
theories about the structure and function of the ego. The first 
paper in this section goes back to 1908, presenting Freud's first 
formulation of the subject. Adler's contribution as well as Abra- 
ham's also antedates the modern era of intensive ego psychology. 

As I have already pointed out, the goals of psychoanalytic 
treatment have varied in the course of seventy years. Under the 
topic "Goals" in this book only the modem approach is em- 

Introduction xix 

phasized since the earlier views on the subject are chiefly of his- 
torical interest. 

"Transference and Countertransference" presents the two 
topics of great interest in psychoanalysis at the present time. The 
papers in this section explore these phenomena in their con- 
temporary setting, at the same time pointing out their dynamic 
roots in the past. 

Finally, in "The Psychoanalytic Process" we have attempted 
to present papers which will add to the understanding of the 
analytic process as a method of therapy. 

The tremendous literature of psychoanalysis makes it im- 
possible for any one volume to provide a complete and compre- 
hensive account of the field. What this volume does present, we 
trust, is a coherent selection of contributions which will engage 
the interest of the reader and whet his appetite for further ex- 



Freud's Formulations 

The discovery of the essential building stones of psychoanalysis 
psychic determinism, the unconscious, the significance of 
dreams, the importance of infancy and early childhood in per- 
sonality development, and the transference and countertrans- 
ference phenomena is due to the genius of Sigmund Freud. 
These cardinal clinically observable facts are the bases of any 
theory of psychoanalysis. They are universally accepted. 

The theoretical framework within which Freud has incor- 
porated these concepts is the libido theory. Depending on their 
interpretation of the term "libido/' this theory has been utilized 
by many analysts in many ways; some have continued to accept 
it in its original form and have added minor concepts which for 
them explain additional observations; others have emphasized 
its foundation in nineteenth-century physics and have proposed 
theoretical formulations more in accord with the conceptions of 
contemporary physics. Still others have objected to the formula- 
tion of the instincts as the sole source of energy and have pro- 
posed another source, namely the ego. 

Influenced by research in sociology and anthropology, some 
workers have abandoned the libido concept entirely and have 
attempted to formulate systems which can be tested operationally. 

The first presentation is taken from the last book written by 
Freud these chapters give a concise and readable statement of 
the libido theory, a definition of the term "sexual," and his ap- 
proach to mental phenomena. 



The Theory of the Instincts* 

The power of the id expresses the true purpose of the individual 
organism's life. This consists in the satisfaction of its innate 
needs. No such purpose as that of keeping itself alive or of pro- 
tecting itself from dangers by means of anxiety can be attributed 
to the id. That is the business of the ego, which is also concerned 
with discovering the most favorable and least perilous method 
of obtaining satisfaction, taking the external world into account. 
The superego may bring fresh needs to the fore, but its chief 
function remains the limitation of satisfactions. 

(The forces which we assume to exist behind the tensions 
caused by the needs of the id are called instincts 'Jlhey represent 
the somatic demands upon mental life. Though they are the 
ultimate cause of all activity, they are by nature conservative; 
the state, whatever it may be, which a living thing has reached, 
gives rise to a tendency to re-establish that state so soon as it has 
been abandoned. It is possible to distinguish an indeterminate 
number of instincts and in common practice this is in fact done. 
For us, however, the important question arises whether we may 
not be able to derive all of these various instincts from a few 
fundamental ones. We have found that instincts can change their 
aim (by displacement) and also that they can replace one an- 
other the energy of one instinct passing over to another. This 
latter process is still insufficiently understood. After long doubts 

* Reprinted trom An Outline of Psychoanalysis by Sigrmmd Freud, by per- 
mission of W. W, Norton & Company, Inc. and The Hogarth Press, Ltd. 
Copyright 1949 by W. W. Norton & Company, lac. Translated by James 


6 Sigmund Freud 

and vacillations we have decided to assume the existence of only 
two basic instincts, Eros and the destructive Instinct, (The con- 
trast between the instincts of self-preservation and of the preser- 
vation of the species, as well as the contrast between ego-love 
and object-love, fall within the bounds of Eros.) The aim of the 
first of these basic instincts is to establish ever greater unities 
and to preserve them thus in short, to bind together; the aim 
Df the second, on the contrary, is to undo connections and so 
to destroy things. We may suppose that the final aim of the 
destructive instinct is to reduce living things to an inorganic state. 
For this reason we also call it the death instinct. If we suppose 
that living things appeared later than inanimate ones and arose 
out of them, then the death instinct agrees with the formula 
that we have stated, to the effect that instincts tend toward a 
return to an earlier state. We are unable to apply the formula 
to Eros (the love instinct). That would be to imply that living 
substance had once been a unity but had subsequently been torn 
apart and was now tending toward re-union. 1 

In biological functions the two basic instincts work against 
each other or combine with each other. Thus, the act of eating 
is a destruction of the object with the final aim of incorporating 
it, and the sexual act is an act of aggression having as its purpose 
the most intimate union. This interaction of the two basic 
instincts with and against each other gives rise to the whole 
variegation of the phenomena of life. The analogy of our two 
basic instincts extends from the region of animate things to the 
pair of opposing forces attraction and repulsion which rule 
in the inorganic world. 2 

Modifications in the proportions of the fusion between the 
instincts have the most noticeable results. A surplus of sexual 
aggressiveness will change a lover into a sexual murderer, while 
a sharp diminution w. the .aggressive factor will lead to shyness 
or impotence. 

There can be no question of reainccicg C0e or the other of the 

1 Something of the sort has been imagined by poets, but niching like it is 
known to us from the actual history of living substance. 

a This picture of the basic forces or instincts, which still arouses much 
opposition among analysts, was already a familiar one to the philosopher 
Enipedocles of Acragas. 

The Theory of the Instincts 7 

basic instincts to a single region of the mind. They are neces- 
sarily present everywhere. We may picture an initial state of 
things by supposing that the whole available energy of Eros, to 
which we shall henceforward give the name of libido, is present 
in the as yet undifferentiated ego-id and serves to neutralize the 
destructive impulses which are simultaneously present. (There 
is no term analogous to "libido" for describing the energy of 
the destructive instinct.) It becomes relatively easy for us to 
follow the later vicissitudes of the libido; but this is more 
difficult with the destructive instinct. 

So long as that instinct operates internally, as a death instinct, 
it remains silent; we only come across it after it has become 
diverted outward as an instinct of destruction. That that diversion 
should occur seems essential for the preservation of the indi- 
vidual; the musculature is employed for the purpose. When the 
superego begins to be formed, considerable amounts of the 
aggressive instinct become fixated within the ego and operate 
there in a self-destructive fashion. This is one of the dangers to 
health to which mankind become subject on the path to cultural 
development. The holding back of aggressiveness is in general 
unhealthy and leads to illness; A person in a fit of rage often 
demonstrates how the transition from restrained aggressiveness 
to self-destructiveness is effected, by turning his aggressiveness 
against himself: he tears his hair or beats his face with his fists 
treatment which he would evidently have preferred to apply to 
someone else. Some portion of self-destructiveness remains per- 
manently within, until it at length succeeds in doing the individual 
to death, not, perhaps, until his libido has been used up or has 
become fixated in some disadvantageous way. Thus it may in 
general be suspected that the individual dies of his internal con- 
flicts but that the species dies of its unsuccessful struggle against 
the external world, when the latter undergoes changes of a 
kind that cannot be dealt with by the adaptations which the 
species has acquired. 

It is difficult to say anything of the behavior of the libido in 
the id and in the superego. Everything that we know about it 
relates to the ego, in which the whole available amount of libido 
is at first stored up. We call this state of things absolute, primary 

8 Sigmund Freud 

narcissism. It continues until the ego begins to cathect 8 the pres- 
entations of objects with libido to change narcissistic libido 
into object libido. Throughout life the ego remains the great 
reservoir from which libidinal cathexes 3 are sent out on to 
objects and into which they are also once more withdrawn, like 
the pseudopodia of a body of protoplasm. It is only when some- 
one is completely in love that the main quantity of libido is 
transferred on to the object and the object to some extent takes 
the place of the ego. A characteristic of libido which is important 
in life is its mobility, the ease with which it passes from one object 
to another. This must be contrasted with the fixation of libido to 
particular objects, which often persists through life. 

There can be no question that the libido has somatic sources, 
that it streams into the ego from various organs and parts of the 
body. This is most clearly seen in the case of the portion of the 
libido which, from its instinctual aim, is known as sexual excita- 
tion. The most prominent of the parts of the body from which this 
libido arises are described by the name of erotogenic zones, 
though strictly speaking the whole body is an erotogenic zone. 
The greater part of what we know about Eros that is, about its 
exponent, the libido has been gained from the study of the 
sexual function, which, indeed, in the popular view, if not in our 
theory, coincides with Eros. We have been able to form a pic- 
ture of the way in which the sexual impulse, which is destined 
to exercise a decisive influence on our life, gradually develops 
out of successive contributions from a number of component 
instincts, which represent particular erotogenic zones. 

3 [The words "cathexis" and "to cathect" are used as renderings of the 
German "Besetzung" and "besetzen." These are the terms with which Freud 
expresses the idea of psychical energy being lodged in or attaching itself to 
mental structures or processes, somewhat 011 the analogy of an electric charge. 


The Development of the 
Sexual Function* 

According to the popular view, human sexual life consists essen- 
tially in the impulse to bring one's own genitals into contact with 
those of someone of the opposite sex. With this are associated, 
as accessory phenomena and introductory acts, kissing this ex- 
traneous body, looking at and touching it. This impulse is sup- 
posed to make its appearance at puberty, that is, at the age of 
sexual maturity, and to serve the purposes of reproduction. 
Nevertheless, certain facts have always been known that fail to 
fit into the narrow framework of this view. ( 1 ) It is a remarkable 
fact that there are people who are only attracted by the persons 
and genitals of members of their own sex. (2) It is equally re- 
markable that there are people whose desires behave in every way 
like sexual ones, but who at the same time entirely disregard the 
sexual organs or their normal use; people of this kind are known 
as "perverts." (3) And finally it is striking that many children 
(who are on that account regarded as degenerates) take a very 
early interest in their genitals and show signs of excitation in 

It may well be believed that psychoanalysis provoked astonish- 
ment and denials when, partly upon the basis of these three 
neglected facts, it contradicted all the popular opinions upon 
sexuality. Its principal findings are as follows: 

* Reprinted from An Outline of Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud, by per- 
mission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. and The Hogarth Press, Ltd- 
Copyright 1949 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. 


IQ Sigmund fraud 

(a) Sexual life does not begin only at puberty, but starts with 
clear manifestations soon after birth. 

(Z>) It is necessary to distinguish sharply between the concepts 
of "sexual" and "genital." The former is the wider concept and 
includes many activities that have nothing to do with the genitals. 

(c) Sexual life comprises the function of obtaining pleasure 
from zones of the body a function which is subsequently 
brought into the service of that of reproduction. The two func- 
tions often fail to coincide completely. 

The chief interest is naturally focused upon the first of these 
assertions, the most unexpected of all. It has been found that 
in early childhood there are signs of bodily activity to which only 
ancient prejudice could deny the name of sexual, and which are 
connected with mental phenomena that we come across later in 
adult love, such as fixation to a particular object, jealousy, and 
so on. It is further found that these phenomena which emerge 
in early childhood form part of a regular process of development, 
that they undergo a steady increase and reach a climax toward 
the end of the fifth year, after which there follows a lull. During 
this lull, progress is at a standstill and much is unlearned and 
undone. After the end of this period of latency, as it is called, 
sexual life is resumed with puberty, or, as we might say, it has 
a second efflorescence. Here we come upon the fact that the onset 
of sexual life is diphasic, that it occurs in two waves; this is 
unknown except in man and evidently has an important bearing 
upon his genesis. 1 It is not a matter of indifference that, with 
few exceptions, the events of the early period of sexuality fall a 
victim to infantile amnesia. Our understanding of the etiology 
of the neuroses and the technique of analytic therapy are derived 
from these views; and the tracing of the process of development 
in this early period has also provided evidence for yet other con- 

x Cf. the hypothesis that man is descended from a mammal which reached 
sexual maturity at the age of five, but that some great external influence was 
brought to bear upon the species and interrupted the straight line of de- 
velopment of sexuality. This may also have been related to some other trans- 
formations in the sexual life of man as compared with that of animals, such 
as the suppression of the periodicity of the libido and the exploitation of the 
part played by menstruation in the relation between the sexes. 

The Development of the Sexual Function 11 

The first organ to make Its appearance as an erotogenic zone 
and to make libidinal demands upon the mind is, from the time 
of birth onward, the mouth. To begin with, all mental activity 
is centered upon the task of providing satisfaction for the needs 
of that zone. In the first instance, of course, the latter serves the 
purposes of self-preservation by means of nourishment; but physi- 
ology should not be confused with psychology. The baby's ob- 
stinate persistence in sucking gives evidence at an early stage 
of a need for satisfaction which, although it originates from and 
is stimulated by the taking of nourishment, nevertheless seeks to 
obtain pleasure independently of nourishment and for that reason 
may and should be described as "sexual." 

Sadistic impulses already begin to occur sporadically during 
the oral phase along with the appearance of the teeth. Their 
extent increases greatly during the second phase, which we 
describe as the sadistic-anal phase, because satisfaction is then 
sought in aggression and in the excretory function. We justify 
our inclusion of aggressive impulses in the libido by supposing 
that sadism is an instinctual fusion of purely libidinal and purely 
destructive impulses, a fusion which thenceforward persists with- 
out interruption. 2 

The third phase is the so-called phallic one, which is, as it were, 
a forerunner of the final shape of sexual life, and already greatly 
resembles it. It is to be noted that what comes in question at 
this stage is not the genitals of both sexes but only those of the 
male (the phallus). The female genitals long remain unknown: 
in the child's attempt at understanding sexual processes, he pays 
homage to the venerable cloacal theory a theory which has a 
genetic justification. 3 

With the phallic phase and in the course of it the sexuality of 
early childhood reaches its height and approaches its decline. 

9 The question arises whether satisfaction of purely destructive instinctual 
impulses can be felt as pleasure, whether pure destructiveness without any 
libidinal component occurs. Satisfaction of what remains in the ego of the 
death instinct seems not to produce feelings of pleasure, although masochism 
represents a fusion which is precisely analogous to sadism. 

3 The occurrence of early vaginal excitations is often asserted. But it is 
most probably a question of excitations in the clitoris, that is, in an organ 
analogous to the penis, so that this fact would not preclude us from describing 
the phase as phallic. 

12 Sigmund Freud 

Thenceforward boys and girls have different histories. To begin 
with, both place their intellectual activity at the service of sexual 
research; both start off from the presumption of the universal 
presence of the penis. But now the paths of the sexes divide. 
The boy enters the CEdipus phase; he begins to manipulate his 
penis, and simultaneously has phantasies of carrying out some 
sort of activity with it in relation to his mother; but at last, owing 
to the combined effect of a threat of castration and the spectacle 
of women's lack of a penis, he experiences the greatest trauma 
of his life, and this introduces the period of latency with all its 
attendant consequences. The girl, after vainly attempting to do 
the same as the boy, conies to recognize her lack of a penis or 
rather the inferiority of her clitoris, with permanent effects upon 
the development of her character; and, as a result of this first 
disappointment in rivalry, she often turns away altogether from 
sexual life. 

It would be a mistake to suppose that these three phases suc- 
ceed one another in a clear-cut fashion: one of them may appear 
in addition to another, they may overlap one another, they may 
be present simultaneously. 

In the earlier phases the separate component instincts set about 
their pursuit of pleasure independently of one another; in the 
phallic phase there are the first signs of an organization which 
subordinates the other trends to the primacy of the genitals and 
signifies the beginning of a co-ordination of the general pursuit 
of pleasure into the sexual function. The complete organization 
is not attained until puberty, in a fourth, or genital, phase. A state 
of affairs is then established in which (1) many earlier libidinal 
cathexes are retained, (2) others are included in the sexual func- 
tion as preparatory or auxiliary acts, their satisfaction producing 
what is known as fore-pleasure, and (3) other tendencies are 
excluded from the organization, and are either entirely suppressed 
(repressed) or are employed in the ego in some other way, form- 
ing character-traits or undergoing sublimation with a displace- 
ment of their aims. 

This process is not always carried out perfectly. Inhibitions ir* 
the course of its development manifest themselves as the variou* 
disturbances of sexual life. Fixations of the libido to conditions at 

The Development of the Sexual Function 13 

earlier phases are then found, the trend of which, moving inde- 
pendently of the normal sexual aim, is described as perversion. 
One example of an inhibition in development of this kind is 
homosexuality, if it is manifest. Analysis shows that in every case 
a homosexual attachment to an object has at one time been 
present and in most cases has persisted in a latent condition. 
The situation is complicated by the fact that the processes neces- 
sary for bringing about a normal outcome are not for the most 
part either completely present or completely absent; they are as 
a rule partially present, so that the final result remains dependent 
upon quantitative relations. Thus genital organization will be 
attained, but will be weakened in respect of those portions of 
the libido which have not proceeded so far but have remained 
fixated to pregenital objects and aims. Such weakening shows 
itself in a tendency, if there is an absence of genital satisfaction 
or if there are difficulties in the real world, for the libido to 
return to its earlier pregenital cathexes (i.e. to regress). 

During the study of the sexual functions it has been possible 
to gain a first, preliminary conviction, or rather suspicion, of two 
pieces of knowledge which will later be found to be important 
over the whole of our field. Firstly, the normal and abnormal 
phenomena that we observe (that is, the phenomenology of the 
subject) require to be described from the point of view of dynam- 
ics and of economics (i.e., in this connection, from the point of 
view of the quantitative distribution of the libido). And secondly, 
the etiology of the disturbances which we are studying is to be 
found in the developmental history of the individual, that is to 
say, in the early part of his life. 


Mental Qualities* 

We have described the structure of the psychical apparatus and 
the energies or forces which are active in it, and we have followed 
in a striking example the way in which those energies (and 
principally the libido) organize themselves into a physiological 
function which serves the purpose of the preservation of the 
species. There was nothing in all this to exemplify the quite 
peculiar character of what is mental, apart, of course, from the 
empirical fact that this apparatus and these energies underlie the 
functions which we call our mental life. We will now turn to 
something which is a unique characteristic of what is mental, and 
which, in fact, according to a widely held opinion, actually coin- 
cides with it to the exclusion of all else. 

The starting point for this investigation is provided by a fact 
without parallel, which defies all explanation or description the 
fact of consciousness. Nevertheless, if anyone speaks of con- 
sciousness, we know immediately and from our own most per- 
sonal experience what is meant by it. 1 Many people, both inside 
and outside the science of psychology, are satisfied with the 
assumption that consciousness alone is mental, and nothing then 
remains for psychology but to discriminate in the phenomenology 
of the mind between perceptions, feelings, intellective processes 

* Reprinted from An Outline of Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud, by per- 
mission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. and The Hogarth Press, Ltd. 
Copyright 1949 by W. \V. Norton & Company, Inc. 

1 Extreme lines of thought, such as the American doctrine of behaviorism, 
think it possible to construct a psychology which disregards this fundamental 


Mental Qualities 15 

and volitions. It is generally agreed, however, that these con- 
scious processes do not form unbroken series which are com- 
plete in themselves; so that there is no alternative to assuming 
that there are physical or somatic processes which accompany the 
mental ones and which must admittedly be more complete than 
the mental series, since some of them have conscious processes 
parallel to them but others have not. It thus seems natural to lay 
the stress in psychology upon these somatic processes, to see in 
them the true essence of what is mental and to try to arrive at 
some other assessment of the conscious processes. The majority 
of philosophers, however, as well as many other people, dispute 
this position and declare that the notion of a mental thing being 
unconscious is self-contradictory. 

But it is precisely this that psychoanalysis is obliged to assert, 
and this is its second fundamental hypothesis. It explains the 
supposed somatic accessory processes as being what is essentially 
mental and disregards for the moment the quality of conscious- 
ness. It does not stand alone in this opinion. Many thinkers (such 
as Theodor Lipps, for instance) have made the same assertion 
m the same words. And the general dissatisfaction with the usual 
view of what is mental has resulted in an ever more urgent de- 
mand for the inclusion in psychological thought of a concept 
of the unconscious, though the demand has been of such an 
indefinite and vague nature that it could have no influence upon 

Now it might appear as though this dispute between psycho- 
analysis and philosophy was only concerned with a trifling matter 
of definition the question whether the name "mental" should 
be applied to one or another series of phenomena. Actually, how- 
ever, this step has been of the greatest importance. Whereas 
the psychology of consciousness never went beyond this broken 
sequence of events which was obviously dependent upon some* 
thing else, the other view, which held that what is mental is in 
itself unconscious, enabled psychology to take its place as a 
natural science like any other. The processes with which it is 
concerned are in themselves just as unknowable as those dealt 
with by the other sciences, by chemistry or physics, for example; 
but it is possible to establish the laws which those processes 

16 Sigmund Freud 

obey and to follow over long and unbroken stretches their mu- 
tual relations and interdependences in short, to gain what is 
known as an "understanding" of the sphere of natural phenomena 
in question. This cannot be effected without framing fresh hy- 
potheses and creating fresh concepts; but these are not to be 
despised as evidence of our embarrassment but must on the con- 
trary be valued as enriching science. We can claim for them the 
same value as approximations as belongs to the corresponding 
intellectual scaffolding found in other natural sciences, and we 
look forward to their being modified, corrected and more pre- 
cisely determined as more experience is accumulated and sifted. 
So too it will be entirely in accordance with our expectations if 
the basic concepts and principles of the new science (instinct, 
nervous energy, etc.) remain for a considerable time no less 
indeterminate than those of the older sciences (force, mass, 
attraction, etc.). 

Every science is based upon observations and experiences 
arrived at through the medium of our psychical apparatus. But 
since our science has as its subject that apparatus itself, the 
analogy ends here. We make our observations through the 
medium of the same perceptual apparatus, precisely by the help 
of the breaks in the series of [conscious] mental events, since we 
fill in the omissions by plausible inferences and translate them 
into conscious material. In this way we construct, as it were, a 
series of conscious events complementary to the unconscious 
mental processes. The relative certainty of our mental science 
rests upon the binding force of these inferences. Anyone who 
goes deeply into the subject will find that our technique holds its 
ground against every criticism. 

In the course of our work the distinctions which we denote 
as mental qualities force themselves on our attention. There is no 
need to characterize what we call conscious: it is the same as the 
consciousness of philosophers and of everyday opinion* Every- 
thing else that is mental is in our view unconscious. We are soon 
led to make an important division in this unconscious. Some proc- 
esses become conscious easily; they may then cease to be con- 
scious, but can become conscious once more without any trouble; 
as people say, they can be reproduced or remembered. This re- 

Mental Qualities 17 

minds us that consciousness is in general a very highly fugitive 
condition. What is conscious is conscious only for a moment. If 
our perceptions do not confirm this, the contradiction is merely 
an apparent one. It is explained by the fact that the stimuli of 
perception can persist for some time, so that in the course of it 
the perception of them can be repeated. The whole position can 
be clearly seen from the conscious perception of our intellective 
processes; it is true that these may persist, but they may just as 
easily pass in a flash. Everything unconscious that behaves in 
this way, that can easily exchange the unconscious condition 
for the conscious one, is therefore better described as "capable 
of entering consciousness," or as preconscious. Experience has 
taught us that there are hardly any mental processes, even of 
the most complicated kind, which cannot on occasion remain pre- 
conscious, although as a rule they press forward, as we say, into 
consciousness. There are other mental processes or mental mate- 
rial which have no such easy access to consciousness, but which 
must be inferred, discovered, and translated into conscious form 
in the manner that has been described. It is for such material that 
we reserve the name of the unconscious proper. 

Thus we have attributed three qualities to mental processes: 
they are either conscious, preconscious, or unconscious. The di- 
vision between the three classes of material which have these 
qualities is neither absolute nor permanent. What is preconscious 
becomes conscious, as we have seen, without any activity on our 
part; what is unconscious can, as a result of our efforts, be made 
conscious, though in the process we may have an impression that 
we are overcoming what are often very strong resistances. When 
we make an attempt of this kind upon someone else, we ought 
not to forget that the conscious filling up of the breaks in his 
perceptions the construction which we are offering him does 
not so far mean that we have made conscious in him the un- 
conscious material in question. All that is so far true is that the 
material is present in his mind in two versions, first in the con- 
scious reconstruction that he has just received and secondly in 
its original unconscious condition. By persistent efforts we usu- 
ally succeed in bringing it about that this unconscious material 
too becomes conscious to him, as a result of which the two ver- 

18 Sigmund Freud 

sions come to coincide, The amount of effort needed, by which 
we estimate the resistance against the material becoming con- 
scious, varies in magnitude in each individual case. For instance, 
what comes about in an analytic treatment as the result of our 
efforts can also occur spontaneously: material which is ordinarily 
unconscious can transform itself into preconscious and then into 
conscious material a thing that happens upon a large scale in 
psychotic states. From this we may infer that the maintenance 
of certain internal resistances is a sine qua non of normality. A 
lowering of resistances of this sort, with a consequent pressing 
forward of unconscious material, takes place regularly in the 
state of sleep and thus brings about a necessary precondition for 
the formation of dreams. On the other hand, preconscious mate- 
rial can become temporarily inaccessible and cut off by resist- 
ances, as on occasions of passing forgetfulness, or a preconscious 
thought can actually be temporarily pushed back into the uncon- 
scious condition, as seems to be necessary in the case of jokes. 
We shall see that a similar reversion of preconscious material or 
processes to the unconscious condition plays a great part in the 
causation of neurotic disorders. 

The theory of the three qualities of mental events, as described 
in this generalized and simplified manner, seems likely to be a 
source of endless confusion rather than a help to clarification. But 
it must not be forgotten that it is properly not a theory at all, but 
a first attempt at a stock-taking of the facts of our observation, 
that it keeps as close as possible to those facts and does not seek 
to explain them. The complications which it reveals may bring 
into relief the peculiar difficulties with which our investigation 
has to contend. It seems likely however that we shall learn more 
about the subject if we follow out the relations between the 
mental qualities and the provinces or agencies which we have 
postulated in the mental apparatus though these relations too 
are far from being simple. 

The process of a thing becoming conscious is above all linked 
with the perceptions which our sense organs receive from the 
external world. From the topographical point of view, therefore, 
it is a phenomenon which occurs in the outermost cortex of the 
ego. It is true that we also receive conscious information from 

Menial Qualities 19 

the inside of the body the feelings, which actually exercise a 
more peremptory influence upon our mental life than external 
perceptions; moreover., in certain circumstances the sense organs 
themselves transmit feelings, sensations of pain, in addition to 
the perceptions which are specific to them. Since, however, these 
feelings (as we call them, in contrast to conscious perceptions) 
also emanate from the terminal organs, and since we regard 
all of those organs as prolongations or offshoots of the cortex, it 
is still possible to maintain the assertion made at the beginning of 
this paragraph. It need only be said by way of distinction that, as 
regards the terminal organs of feeling, the body itself takes the 
place of the external world. 

Conscious processes on the periphery of the ego and every- 
thing else in the ego unconscious such would be the simplest 
state of affairs that we might picture. And such may in fact be 
the conditions prevailing in animals. But in men there is an added 
complication owing to which internal processes in the ego may 
also acquire the quality of consciousness. This complication is 
produced by the function of speech, which brings the material in 
the ego into a firm connection with the memory-traces of visual 
and more particularly of auditory perceptions. Thenceforward 
the perceptual periphery of the cortex of the ego can be stimu- 
lated to a much greater extent from inside as well; internal events 
such as sequences of ideas and intellective processes can become 
conscious; and a special apparatus becomes necessary in order 
to distinguish between the two possibilities that is, what is 
known as reality -testing. The equation "perception = reality (ex- 
ternal world)" no longer holds. Errors, which can now easily 
arise and do in fact habitually arise in dreams, are called halluci-' 

The inside of the ego, which comprises above all the intellective 
processes, has the quality of being preconscious. This is charac- 
teristic of the ego and belongs to it alone. It would not be right, 
however, to assert that a connection with the memory-traces of 
speech is a prerequisite of the preconscious condition. On the 
contrary, that condition does not depend upon any such pre- 
requisite, although the presence of speech gives a safe clue to 
the preconscious nature of a process. The preconscious condition, 

20 Sigmund Freud 

which is characterized on the one hand by having access to con- 
sciousness and on the other hand by being linked with the verbal 
residues, is nevertheless something peculiar, the nature of which 
is not exhausted by these two characteristics. The proof of this is 
that large portions of the ego, and in particular of the superego, 
which cannot be denied the characteristic of being preconscious, 
none the less remain for the most part unconscious in the phe- 
nornenological sense of the word. We do not know why this must 
be so. We shall attempt later on to attack the problem of the 
true nature of the preconscious. 

The sole quality that rules in the id is that of being uncon- 
scious. Id and unconscious are as intimately united as ego and 
preconscious; indeed, the former connection is even more exclu- 
sive. If we look back at the developmental history of the individ- 
ual and of his psychical apparatus, we shall be able to make an 
important distinction in the id. Originally, of course, everything 
was id; the ego was developed out of the id by the continual influ- 
ence of the external world. In the course of this slow develop- 
ment certain material in the id was transformed into the precon- 
scious condition and was thus taken into the ego. Other material 
remained unaltered in the id, as its hardly accessible nucleus. But 
during this development the young and feeble ego dropped and 
pushed back into the unconscious condition certain material 
which it had already taken in, and behaved similarly in regard 
to many new impressions which it might have taken in, so that 
these were rejected and were able to leave traces in the id only. 
In consideration of its origin, we term this portion of the id the 
repressed. It is of little importance that we are not always able 
to draw a sharp distinction between these two categories of 
material in the id. They coincide approximately with the division 
between what was originally present and what was acquired 
during the development of the ego. 

Having now decided upon the topographical division of the 
mental apparatus into an ego and an id, with which the difference 
in quality between preconscious and unconscious runs parallel, 
and having agreed that this quality is only an indication of the 
distinction and does not constitute its essence, we are faced by a 
further question. What is the true nature of the condition whick 

Mental Qualities 21 

is disclosed in the case of the id by the quality of being uncon- 
scious and in the case of the ego by that of being preconscious, 
and in what does the distinction between them consist? 

But of this we know nothing; and the profound obscurity of 
our ignorance is scarcely illuminated by a glimmer or two of light 
For here we have approached the still shrouded secret of the 
nature of what is mental. We assume, as the other natural 
sciences have taught us to expect, that in mental life some kind 
of energy is at work; but we have no data which enable us to 
come nearer to a knowledge of it by an analogy with other forms 
of energy. We seem to recognize that nervous or psychical energy 
exists in two forms, one freely mobile and the other, by contrast, 
bound; we speak of cathexes and hypercathexes of the material 
of the mind and even venture to suppose that a hypercathexis 
brings about a sort of synthesis of different processes a synthesis 
in the course of which free energy is transformed into bound 
energy. Further than this we have been unable to go. Neverthe- 
less, we hold firmly to the view that the distinction between the 
unconscious and the preconscious condition also lies in dynamic 
relations of this same kind, which would explain how it is that, 
whether spontaneously or with our assistance, the one can be 
changed into the other. 

But behind all of these uncertainties there lies one new fact, the 
discovery of which we owe to psychoanalytic research. We have 
learned that processes in the unconscious or in the id obey differ- 
ent laws from those in the preconscious ego. We name these laws 
in their totality the primary process, in contrast to the secondary 
process which regulates events in the preconscious or ego. Thus 
the study of mental qualities has after all proved not unfruitful 
in the end. 

The Study of the Ego 

The first great clinical and theoretical advances in psychoanalysis 
were in the study of the "id" the area that interested Freud pri- 
marily. It remains a tribute to his genius that the libidinal factors 
and their vicissitudes have been so thoroughly studied. 

Both Glover and Alexander were among the first to describe 
neuroses in terms of character traits rather than symptoms and 
applied the term character neuroses to them. At the same time, 
it was realized that when psychoanalysis limited itself to making 
unconscious phenomena conscious it was a very inadequate thera- 
peutic instrument. 

As an inevitable development from Freud's work, the ego 
properly became the major field of study for analysts. Wllhelm 
Reich was the first to describe the importance of the defensive 
aspects of the ego in any systematic approach to therapy, while 
Anna Freud has added the same concepts to the theoretical 
framework of psychoanalysis. The study of the ego has remained 
a major preoccupation of many psychoanalysts. Hartmann, Kris, 
and Loewenstein are among the more notable contributors. Hart- 
mann and Silverberg have suggested that the ego is autonomous 
as well as being dependent on the id and French has in addition 
emphasized its integrative function. 

Whatever the present state of the psychoanalytic theory of the 
ego, it is a pragmatic fact that analyses make progress only inso- 
far as they clarify the defenses and resistances of the ego. 


On the Technique of Character- 

1. Introductory Review 

Our therapeutic method is determined by the following basic 
theoretical concepts. The topical standpoint determines the tech- 
nical principle that the unconscious has to be made conscious. 
The dynamic standpoint determines the rule that this has to take 
place not directly but by way of resistance analysis. The economic 
standpoint and the psychological structure determine the rule that 
the resistance analysis has to be carried out in a certain order 
according to the individual patient. 

As long as the topical process, the making conscious of the 
unconscious, was considered the only task of analytic technique, 
the formula that the unconscious manifestations should be inter- 
preted in the sequence in which they appeared was correct. The 
dynamics of the analysis, that is, whether or not the making con- 
scious also released the corresponding affect, whether the analysis 
influenced the patient beyond a merely intellectual understanding, 
that was more or less left to chance. The inclusion of the dynamic 
element, that is, the demand that the patient should not only 
remember things but also experience them, already complicated 
the simple formula that one had to "make the unconscious con- 
scious." However, the dynamics of the analytic affect do not 
depend on the contents but on the resistances which the patient 

* First presented at the X. International Psychoanalytic Congress, Innsbruck, 
1927. Reprinted by permission from Character Analysis (3d edition, New 
%r ork, 1949). Copyright, 1949, Orgone Institute Press, Inc. 


26 Wilhelm Reich 

puts up against them and on the emotional experience in over- 
coming them. This makes the analytic task a vastly different one. 
From the topical standpoint, it is sufficient to bring into the pa- 
tient's consciousness, one after the other, the manifest elements 
of the unconscious; in other words, the guiding line is the con- 
tent of the material. If one also considers the dynamic factor one 
has to relinquish this guiding line in favor of another which com- 
prehends the content of the material as well as the affects: that of 
the successive resistances. In doing so we meet, in most patients, 
with a difficulty which we have not yet mentioned. 

2. Character Armor and Character Resistance 

a) The inability to follow the fundamental rule. 

Rarely are our patients immediately accessible to analysis, 
capable of following the fundamental rule and of really opening 
up to the analyst. They cannot immediately have full confidence 
in a strange person; more importantly, years of illness, constant 
influencing by a neurotic milieu, bad experiences with physicians, 
in brief, the whole secondary warping of the personality have 
created a situation unfavorable to analysis. The elimination of 
this difficulty would not be so hard were it not supported by the 
character of the patient which is part and parcel of his neurosis. 
It is a difficulty which has been termed "narcissistic barrier." 
There are, in principle, two ways of meeting this difficulty, in 
especial, the rebellion against the fundamental rule. 

One, which seems the usual one, is a direct education to analy- 
sis by information, reassurance, admonition, talking-to, etc. That 
is, one attempts to educate the patient to analytic candor by the 
establishment of some sort of positive transference. This corre- 
sponds to the technique proposed by Nunberg. Experience shows, 
however, that this pedagogical method is very uncertain; it lacks 
the basis of analytic clarity and is exposed to the constant varia- 
tions in the transference situation. 

The other way is more complicated and as yet not applicable 
in all patient*, but far more certain. It is that of replacing the 

On the Technique of Character- Analysis 27 

pedagogical measures by analytic interpretations. Instead of in- 
ducing the patient into analysis by advice, admonitions and trans- 
ference manoeuvres, one focuses one's attention on the actual 
behavior of the patient and its meaning: why he doubts> or is late, 
or talks in a haughty or confused fashion, or communicates only 
every other or third thought, why he criticizes the analysis or pro- 
duces exceptionally much material or material from exceptional 
depths. If, for example, a patient talks in a haughty manner, in 
technical terms, one may try to convince him that this is not good 
for the progress of the analysis, that he better give it up and be- 
have less haughtily, for the sake of the analysis. Or, one may re- 
linquish all attempts at persuasion and wait until one understands 
why the patient behaves in this and no other way. One may then 
find that his behavior is an attempt to compensate his feeling of 
inferiority toward the analyst and may influence him by consistent 
interpretation of the meaning of his behavior. This procedure, in 
contrast to the first-mentioned, is in full accord with the principle 
of analysis. 

This attempt to replace pedagogical and similar active measures 
seemingly necessitated by the characteristic behavior of the pa- 
tient, by purely analytic interpretations led unexpectedly to the 
analysis of the character. 

Certain clinical experiences make it necessary to distinguish, 
among the various resistances we meet, a certain group as charac- 
ter resistances. They get their specific stamp not from their con- 
tent but from the patient's specific way of acting and reacting. 
The compulsive character develops specifically different resist- 
ances than does the hysterical character; the latter different resist- 
ances from the impulsive or neurasthenic character. The form of 
the typical reactions which differ from character to character 
though the contents may be the same is determined by infantile 
experiences just like the content of the symptoms or phantasies. 

b) Whence the character resistances? 

Quite some time ago, Glover worked on the problem of differ- 
entiating character neuroses from symptom neuroses. Alexander 
also operated on the basis of this distinction. In my earlier writ- 

28 Wilhelm Reich 

logs, I also followed it. More exact comparison of the cases 
showed, however, that this distinction makes sense only insofar as 
there are neuroses with circumscribed symptoms and others with- 
out them; the former were called "symptom neuroses/' the latter, 
"character neuroses." In the former, understandably, the symp- 
toms are more obvious, in the latter the neurotic character traits. 
But, we must ask, are there symptoms without a neurotic reaction 
basis, in other words, without a neurotic character? The differ- 
ence between the character neuroses and the symptom neuroses 
is only that in the latter the neurotic character also produced 
symptoms, that it became concentrated in them, as it were. If one 
recognizes the fact that the basis of a symptom neurosis is always 
a neurotic character, then it is clear that we shall have to deal 
with character-neurotic resistances in. every analysis, that every 
analysis must be a character-analysis. 

Another distinction which becomes immaterial from the stand- 
point of character-analysis is that between chronic neuroses, that 
is, neuroses which developed in childhood, and acute neuroses, 
which developed late. For the important thing is not whether the 
symptoms have made their appearance early or late. The impor- 
tant thing is that the neurotic character, the reaction basis for 
the symptom neurosis, was, in its essential traits, already formed 
at the period of the Oedipus phase. It is an old clinical experience 
that the boundary line which the patient draws between health 
and the outbreak of the disease becomes always obliterated during 
the analysis. 

Since symptom formation does not serve as a distinguishing 
criterion we shall have to look for others. There is, first of all, in- 
sight into illness, and rationalization. 

The lack of insight into illness is not an absolutely reliable but 
an essential sign of the character neurosis. The neurotic symptom 
is experienced as a foreign body and creates a feeling of being ill. 
The neurotic character trait, on the other hand, such as the ex- 
aggerated orderliness of the compulsive character or the anxious 
shyness of the hysterical character, are organically built into the 
personality. One may complain about being shy but does not feel 
ill for this reason. It is not until the characteroiogical shyness 
*uras into pathological blushing or the compulsion-neurotic order- 

On the Technique of Character-Analysis 29 

liness into a compulsive ceremonial, that is, not until the neurotic 
character exacerbates symptomatically, that the person feels ill. 

True enough, there are also symptoms for which there is no 
or only slight insight, things that are taken by the patient as bad 
habits or just peculiarities (chronic constipation, mild ejaculatio 
praecox, etc.). On the other hand, many character traits are often 
felt as illness, such as violent outbreaks of rage, tendency to lie, 
drink, waste money, etc. In spite of this, generally speaking, in- 
sight characterizes the neurotic symptom and its lack the neurotic 
character trait. 

The second difference is that the symptom is never as thor- 
oughly rationalized as the character. Neither a hysterical vomiting 
nor compulsive counting can be rationalized. The symptom ap- 
pears meaningless, while the neurotic character is sufficiently ra- 
tionalized not to appear meaningless or pathological. A reason 
is often given for neurotic character traits which would imme- 
diately be rejected as absurd if it were given for symptoms: "he 
just is that way." That implies that the individual was born that 
way, that this "happens to be" his character. Analysis shows this 
interpretation to be wrong; it shows that the character, for definite 
reasons, had to become that way and no different; that, in princi- 
ple, it can be analyzed like the symptom and is alterable. 

Occasionally, symptoms become part of the personality to such 
an extent that they resemble character traits. For example, a 
counting compulsion may appear only as part of general order- 
liness or a compulsive system only in terms of a compulsive work 
arrangement. Such modes of behavior are then considered as pe- 
culiarities rather than as signs of illness. So we can readily see that 
the concept of disease is an entirely fluid one, that there are all 
kinds of transitions from the symptom as an isolated foreign body 
over the neurotic character and the "bad habit" to rational action. 

In comparison to the character trait, the symptom has a very 
simple construction with regard to its meaning and origin. True, 
the symptom also has a multiple determination; but the more 
deeply we penetrate into its determinations, the more we leave the 
realm of symptoms and the clearer becomes the characterological 
reaction basis. Thus one can arrive theoretically at the charac- 
terological reaction basis from any symptom. The symptom has its 

30 Wilhelm Reich 

immediate determination in only a limited number of unconscious 
attitudes; hysterical vomiting, say, Is based on a repressed fellatio 
phantasy or an oral wish for a child. Either expresses itself also 
characterologically, in a certain infantilism and maternal attitude. 
But the hysterical character which forms the basis of the symptom 
is determined by many partly antagonistic strivings and is ex- 
pressed in a specific attitude or way of being. This is not as easy to 
dissect as the symptom; nevertheless, in principle it is, like the 
symptom, to be reduced to and understood from infantile striv- 
ings and experiences. While the symptom corresponds essentially 
to a single experience or striving, the character represents the 
specific way of being of an individual, an expression of his total 
past. For this reason, a symptom may develop suddenly while 
each individual character trait takes years to develop. In saying 
this we should not forget the fact that the symptom also could 
not have developed suddenly unless its characterological neurotic 
reaction basis had already been present. 

The totality of the neurotic character traits makes itself felt 
in the analysis as a compact defense mechanism against our thera- 
peutic endeavors. Analytic exploration of the development of this 
character "armor" shows that it also serves a definite economic 
purpose: on the one hand, it serves as a protection against the 
stimuli from the outer world, on the other hand against the inner 
libidinous strivings. The character armor can perform this task 
because libidinous and sadistic energies are consumed in the neu- 
rotic reaction formations, compensations and other neurotic atti- 
tudes. In the processes which form and maintain this armor, 
anxiety is constantly being bound up, in the same way as it is, ac- 
cording to Freud's description, in, say, compulsive symptoms. We 
shall have to say more later about the economy of character 

Since the neurotic character, in its economic function of a pro- 
tecting armor, has established a certain equilibrium, albeit a neu- 
rotic one, the analysis presents a danger to this equilibrium. This 
is why the resistances which give the analysis of the individual 
case its specific imprint originate from this narcissistic protection 
mechanism. As we have seen, the mode of behavior is the result 
of the total development and as such csm be analyzed and altered; 

On the Technique of Character-Analysis 31 

thus it can also be the starting point for evolving the technique 
of character-analysis. 

<?) The technique of analyzing the character resistance. 

Apart from the dreams, associations, slips and other communi- 
cations of the patients, their attitude, that is, the manner in which 
they relate their dreams, commit slips, produce their associations 
and make their communications, deserves special attention. 1 A 
patient who follows the fundamental rule from the beginning is 
a rare exception; it takes months of character-analytic work to 
make the patient halfway sufficiently honest in his communica- 
tions. The manner in which the patient talks, in which he greets 
the analyst or looks at him, the way he lies on the couch, the in- 
flection of the voice, the degree of conventional politeness, al! 
these things are valuable criteria for judging the latent resistances 
against the fundamental rule, and understanding them makes it 
possible to alter or eliminate them by interpretation. The how of 
saying things is as important "material" for interpretation as is 
what the patient says. One often hears analysts complain that the 
analysis does not go well, that the patient does not produce any 
"material." By that is usually meant the content of associations 
and communications. But the manner in which the patient, say, 
keeps quiet, or his sterile repetitions, are also "material'* which 
can and must be put to use. There is hardly any situation in which 
the patient brings "no material"; it is our fault if we are unable 
to utilize the patient's behavior as "material." 

That the behavior and the form of the communications have 
analytic significance is* nothing new. What I am going to talk 
about is the fact that these things present an avenue of approach 
to the analysis of the character in a very definite and almost per- 
fect manner. Past failures with many cases of neurotic characters 
have taught us that in these cases the form of the communica- 
tions is, at least in the beginning, always more important than 

1 Footnote, 194?: The form of expression is far more important than the 
ideationaJ content. Today, in penetrating to the decisively important infantile 
experiences, we make use of the form of expression exclusively. Not the 
ideational contents but the form of expression is what leads us to the biologi- 
cal reactions which form the basis of the psychic manifestations. 

32 Wilhelm Reich 

their content. One only has to remember the latent resistances of 
the affect-lame, the "good/' over-polite and ever-correct patients; 
those who always present a deceptive positive transference or who 
violently and stereotypically ask for love; those who make a game 
of the analysis; those who are always "armored," who smile in- 
wardly about everything and everyone. One could continue this 
enumeration indefinitely; it is easy to see that a great deal of 
painstaking work will have to be done to master the innumerable 
individual technical problems. 

For the purpose of orientation and of sketching the essential 
differences between character-analysis and symptom-analysis, let 
us assume two pairs of patients for comparison. Let us assume we 
have under treatment at the same time two men suffering from 
premature ejaculation; one is a passive-feminine, the other a 
phallic-aggressive character. Also, two women with an eating dis- 
turbance; one is a compulsive character, the other a hysteric. 

Let us assume further that the premature ejaculation of both 
men has the same unconscious meaning: the fear of the paternal 
penis in the woman's vagina. In the analysis, both patients, on the 
basis of their castration anxiety which is the basis of the symp- 
tom, produce a negative father transference. Both hate the analyst 
(the father) because they see in him the enemy who frustrates 
their pleasure; both have the unconscious wish to do away with 
him. In this situation, the phallic-sadistic character will ward off 
the danger of castration by insults, depreciation and threats, 
while the passive-feminine character, in the same case, will be- 
come steadily more passive, submissive and friendly. In both pa- 
tients, the character has become a resistance: one fends off the 
danger aggressively, the other tries to avoid it by a deceptive sub- 
mission. It goes without saying that the character resistance of the 
passive-feminine patient is more dangerous because he works with 
hidden means: he produces a wealth of material, he remembers 
all kinds of infantile experiences, in short, he seems to cooperate 
splendidly. Actually, however, he camouflages a secret spiteful- 
ness and hatred; as long as he maintains this attitude he does not 
have the courage to show his real self. If, now, one enters only 
upon what he produces, without paying attention to his way of 
behavior, then no analytic endeavor will change his condition. He 

On the Technique of Character- Analysis 33 

may even remember the hatred of his father, but he will not ex~ 
perience it unless one interprets consistently the meaning of his 
deceptive attitude before beginning to interpret the deep meaning 
of his hatred of the father. 

In the case of the second pair, let us assume that an acute posi- 
tive transference has developed. The central content of this posi- 
tive transference is, in either patient, the same as that of the 
symptom, namely, an oral fellatio phantasy. But although the 
positive transference has the same content in either case, the form 
of the transference resistance will be quite different: the hysterical 
patient will, say, show an anxious silence and a shy behavior; the 
compulsive character a spiteful silence or a cold, haughty be- 
havior. In one case the positive transference is warded off by 
aggression, in the other by anxiety. And the form of this defense 
will always be the same in the same patient: the hysterical patient 
will always defend herself anxiously, the compulsive patient ag- 
gressively, no matter what unconscious content is on the point of 
breaking through. That is, in one and the same patient, the char- 
acter resistance remains always the same and only disappears 
with the very roots of the neurosis. 

In the character armor, the narcissistic defense finds its con- 
crete chronic expression. In addition to the known resistances 
which are mobilized against every new piece of unconscious ma- 
terial, we have to recognize a constant factor of a formal nature 
which originates from the patient's character. Because of this 
origin, we call the constant formal resistance factor "character 

In summary, the most important aspects of the character resist- 
ance are the following: 

The character resistance expresses itself not in the content of 
the material, but in the formal aspects of the general behavior, 
the manner of talking, of the gait, facial expression and typical 
attitudes such as smiling, deriding, haughtiness, over-correctness, 
the manner of the politeness or of the aggression, etc. 

What is specific of the character resistance is not what the pa- 
tient says or does, but how he talks and acts, not what he gives 
away in a dream but how he censors, distorts, etc. 

The character resistance remains the same in one and the same 

34 Wilhelm Reich 

patient no matter what the material is against which it is directed. 
Different characters present the same material in a different man- 
ner. For example, a hysteric patient will ward off the positive 
father transference in an anxious manner, the compulsive woman 
in an aggressive manner. 

The character resistance, which expresses itself formally, can 
be understood as to its content and can be reduced to infantile 
experiences and instinctual drives just like the neurotic symptom. 2 

During analysis, the character of a patient soon becomes a re- 
sistance. That is, in ordinary life, the character plays the same 
role as in analysis: that of a psychic protection mechanism. 
The individual is "characterologically armored" against the outer 
world and against his unconscious drives. 

Study of character formation reveals the fact that the character 
armor was formed in infancy for the same reasons and purposes 
which the character resistance serves in the analytic situation. 
The appearance in the analysis of the character as resistance re- 
flects its infantile genesis. The situations which make the charac- 
ter resistance appear in the analysis are exact duplicates of those 
situations in infancy which set character formation into motion. 
For this reason, we find in the character resistance both a defen- 
sive function and a transference of infantile relationships with the 
outer world. 

Economically speaking, the character in ordinary life and the 
character resistance in the analysis serve the same function, that 
of avoiding unpleasure, of establishing and maintaining a psychic 
equilibrium neurotic though it may be and finally, that of ab- 
sorbing repressed energies. One of its cardinal functions is that 
of binding "free-floating" anxiety, or, in other words, that of ab- 
sorbing dammed-up energy. Just as the historical, infantile ele- 
ment is present and active in the neurotic symptoms, so it is in the 
character. This is why a consistent dissolving of character resist- 
ances provides an infallible and immediate avenue of approach 
to the central infantile conflict. 

What, then, follows from these facts for the technique of char- 

2 By the realization of this fact, the formal element becomes included in 
the sphere of psychoanalysis which, hitherto, was centered primarily on the 


On the Technique of Character-Analysis 35 

acter-analysis? Are there essential differences between character- 
analysis and ordinary resistance analysis? There are. They are 
related to 

a) the selection of the sequence in which the material is 

b) the technique of resistance interpretation itself. 

As to a) : If we speak of "selection of material," we have to ex- 
pect an important objection: some will say that any selection is 
at variance with basic psychoanalytic principles, that one should 
let oneself be guided by the patient, that with any kind of selec- 
tion one runs the danger of following one's personal inclinations. 
To this we have to say that in this kind of selection it is not a 
matter of neglecting analytic material; it is merely a matter of 
safeguarding a logical sequence of interpretation which corre- 
sponds to the structure of the individual neurosis. All the material 
is finally interpreted; only, in any given situation this or that 
detail is more important than another. Incidentally, the analyst 
always makes selections anyhow, for he has already made a selec- 
tion when he does not interpret a dream in the sequence in which 
it is presented but selects this or that detail for interpretation. One 
also has made a selection if one pays attention only to the con- 
tent of the communications but not to their form. In other words, 
the very fact that the patient presents material of the most diverse 
kinds forces one to make a selection; what matters is only that 
one select correctly with regard to the given analytic situation. 

In patients who, for character reasons, consistently fail to fol- 
low the fundamental rule, and generally where one deals with a 
character resistance, one will be forced constantly to lift the char- 
acter resistance out of the total material and to dissolve it by the 
interpretation of its meaning. That does not mean, of course, that 
one neglects the rest of the material; on the contrary, every bit of 
material is valuable which gives us information about the mean- 
ing and origin of the disturbing character trait; one merely post- 
pones the interpretation of what material does not have an imme- 
diate connection with the transference resistance until such time 
as the character resistance is understood and overcome at least 
in its essential features. I have already tried to show (c/. Chap- 
ter III) what are the dangers of giving deep-reaching interpre- 

36 Wilhelm Reich 

tations in the presence of undissolved character resistances. 

As to b) : We shall now turn to some special problems of char- 
acter-analytic technique. First of all, we must point out a possible 
misunderstanding. We said that character-analysis begins with 
the emphasis on and the consistent analysis of the character re- 
sistance. It should be well understood that this does not mean 
that one asks the patient, say, not to be aggressive, not to de- 
ceive, not to talk in a confused manner, etc. Such procedure 
would be not only un-analytic but altogether sterile. The fact has 
to be emphasized again and again that what is described here as 
character-analysis has nothing to do with education, admonition, 
trying to make the patient behave differently, etc. In character- 
analysis, we ask ourself why the patient deceives, talks in a con- 
fused manner, why he is affect-blocked, etc.; we try to arouse the 
patient's interest in his character traits in order to be able, with 
his help, to explore analytically their origin and meaning. All 
we do is to lift the character trait which presents the cardinal 
resistance out of the level of the personality and to show the 
patient, if possible, the superficial connections between character 
and symptoms; it is left to him whether or not he will utilize his 
knowledge for an alteration of his character. In principle, the 
procedure is not different from the analysis of a symptom. What 
is added in character-analysis is merely that we isolate the char- 
acter trait and confront the patient with it repeatedly until he 
begins to look at it objectively and to experience it like a painful 
symptom; thus, the character trait begins to be experienced as a 
foreign body which the patient wants to get rid of. 

Surprisingly, this process brings about a change although only 
a temporary one in the personality. With progressing character- 
analysis, that impulse or trait automatically comes to the fore 
which had given rise to the character resistance in the transfer- 
ence. To go back to the illustration of the passive-feminine char- 
acter: the more the patient achieves an objective attitude toward 
his tendency to passive submission, the more aggressive does he 
become. This is so because his passive-feminine attitude was es- 
sentially a reaction to repressed aggressive impulses. But with the 
aggression we also have a return of the infantile castration anxiety 
which in infancy had caused the change from aggressive to pas- 

On the Technique of Character-Analysis 37 

sive-feminine behavior. In this way the analysis of the character 
resistance leads directly to the center of the neurosis, the Oedipus 

One should not have any illusions, however. The isolation of 
such a character resistance and its analytic working-through 
usually takes many months of sustained effort and patient per- 
sistence. Once the breakthrough has succeeded, though, the analy- 
sis usually proceeds rapidly, with emotionally charged analytical 
experiences. If, on the other hand, one neglects such character 
resistances and instead simply follows the line of the material, in- 
terpreting everything in it, such resistances form a ballast which 
it is difficult if not impossible to remove. In that case, one gains 
more and more the impression that every interpretation of 
meaning was wasted, that the patient continues to doubt every- 
thing or only pretends to accept things, or that he meets every- 
thing with an inward smile. If the elimination of these resistances 
was not begun right in the beginning, they confront one with an 
insuperable obstacle in the later stages of the analysis, at a time 
when the most important interpretations of the Oedipus complex 
have .already been given. 

I have already tried to refute the objection that it is impossible 
to tackle resistances before one knows their infantile determina- 
tion. The essential thing is first to see through the present-day 
meaning of the character resistance; this is usually possible with- 
out the infantile material. The latter is needed for the dissolution 
of the resistance. If at first one does no more than to show the 
patient the resistance and to interpret its present-day meaning, 
then the corresponding infantile material with the aid of which 
we can eliminate the resistance soon makes its appearance. 

If we put so much emphasis on the analysis of the mode of be- 
havior, this does not imply a neglect of the contents. We only add 
something that hitherto has been neglected. Experience shows 
that the analysis of character resistances has to assume first rank. 
This does not mean, of course, that one would only analyze char- 
acter resistances up to a certain date and then begin with the in- 
terpretation of contents. The two phases resistance analysis and 
analysis of early infantile experiences overlap essentially; only 
jn the beginning, we have a preponderance of character-analysis, 

38 Wilhelm Reich 

that is, "education to analysis by analysis," while in the later 
stages the emphasis is on the contents and the infantile. This is, of 
course, no rigid rule but depends on the attitudes of the indi- 
vidual patient. In one patient, the interpretation of the infantile 
material will be begun earlier, in another later. It is a basic rule, 
however, not to give any deep-reaching interpretations no 
matter how clear-cut the material as long as the patient is not 
ready to assimilate them. Again, this is nothing new, but it seems 
that differences in analytic technique are largely determined by 
what one or the other analyst means by "ready for analytic 
interpretation." We also have to distinguish those contents which 
are part and parcel of the character resistance and others which 
belong to other spheres of experiencing. As a rule, the patient 
is in the beginning ready to take cognizance of the former, 
but not of the latter. Generally speaking, our character-analytic 
endeavors are nothing but an attempt to achieve the greatest 
possible security in the introduction of the analysis and in the 
interpretation of the infantile material. This leads us to the im- 
portant task of studying and systematically describing the vari- 
ous forms of characteroiogical transference resistances. If we 
understand them, the technique derives automatically from their 

d) Derivation of the situational technique from the structure 
of the character resistance (interpretation technique of 
the defense). 

We now turn to the problem of how the situational technique 
of character-analysis can be derived from the structure of the 
character resistance in a patient who develops his resistances 
right in the beginning, the structure of which is, however, com- 
pletely unintelligible at first. In some cases the character resist- 
ance has a very complicated structure; there are a great many 
coexistent and overlapping determinations. There are reasons for 
beginning the interpretation work with one aspect of the resistance 
and not with any other. A consistent and logical interpretation 
of the defenses and of the mechanisms of the "armor" leads 
directly into the central infantile conflicts. 


The Genesis of the Superego* 

In a paper 1 published some twenty years ago I laid stress on 
the tentative nature of the contribution I was offering to what 
was then an entirely new concept, one of the most important 
that Freud ever made. There is no reason for surprise, therefore, 
that the experience since gained makes me welcome the op- 
portunity for revising some of those tentative conclusions or 
extending them in the light of further knowledge. Most of what I 
wrote concerning the functions and structure of the superego 
still stands, though very much could be added to it, so I propose 
to confine myself here to the more obscure problem of its genesis. 

There can be no more fascinating problem than this in the 
whole of psychology or anthropology, and that for two reasons. 
We have good grounds for supposing that to the activity of the 
superego we are mainly beholden for the imposing structure of 
morality, conscience, ethics, aesthetics, religion in short to the 
whole spiritual aspiration of man that sunders him most strik- 
ingly from the beast. The well-nigh universal belief that man is 
qualitatively different from other animals in possessing a divine 
and immortal soul itself emanates from this source. Anything, 
therefore, that can throw light on such a remarkable, and indeed 
unique, aspect of humanity must needs prove of the highest 
interest to the student of man and his institutions. 

In the second place the superego possesses a further and 

* Reprinted from Samiksa, Vol. I, No. 1, 1947 r pp. 3-12. 

1 "The Origin and Structure of the Superego," International Journal of 
Psychoanalysis, 1926. Reprinted as Chapter VII in the Fourth Edition of my 
Papers on Psychoanalysis. 

40 Ernest Jones 

equally important claim on our interest. There is a darker side 
to it. The superego is man's foe as well as his friend. It is not 
only concerned with promoting man's spiritual welfare, but is 
also responsible for much of his spiritual distress and even for 
the infernal activities that so deface the nature of man and cause 
this distress. In the obscure depths of the unconscious the super- 
ego plays a vital part in the conflicts and turmoil characteristic 
of that region. It is no exaggeration to say that man's mental 
life is essentially composed of struggling efforts either to escape 
from or to support the claims of the superego. Superficially re- 
garded our life appears to consist of a small section concerned 
with more or less abstract speculations and reflections and a far 
larger one concerned with more directly material interests and 
activities. The subjective element in the former is not very hard 
to perceive, although it is often denied. But it is seldom under- 
stood that even with the latter subjective, and more usually irra- 
tional, elements play a very large part also. Were our reason free 
to function it would probably be not very difficult to arrange our 
lives and our institutions so as to provide a vast increase of 
happiness, achievement and security. But the inexorable claims 
of the superego, irrational as they mostly are, are more urgent 
than our real interests, which are commonly subordinated to 
them. And so we have to suffer. 

Before coming closer to our problem it is necessary to be 
clear on one or two prelusive matters. The superego has several 
conscious derivations, for instance, conscience, ego ideal, etc., but 
it itself has to be carefully distinguished from them. Thus the 
essential superego is an institution of the unconscious,, so much 
so that to make a patient aware of its activities is often an ex- 
tremely difficult task. 

Then we have to be specially careful when we use the word 
"morality/' for it is just with the early genesis of this conception 
that we are concerned* The conscience is plainly the guardian of 
morality in the fully developed sense of that term; what is so- 
cially right (according to the mores) and ethically laudable. Now 
the superego is certainly not moral in that sense in extreme cases; 
for example, it may even dictate an act of murder as both de- 
sirable and commendable and yet it possesses one important 

The Genesis of the Superego 41 

attribute that closely mimics it. That is the sense of urgent "ought- 
ness," a categorical imperative. Actually this u oughtness" in the; 
superego may get attached to attitudes that are either moral or 
immoral as judged by our reason and conscience, although ia. 
both cases it is at least as strong and compelling as any corre- 
sponding dictate of the conscience. If, therefore, it is to be called; 
moral it can only be in an extended-irrational sense of the word- 
Furthermore I have been able to trace this pseudo-moral feeling: 
of "oughtness" to an earlier stage in development that antedates 
any sense of right or wrong, one to which I have given the name 
of "prenefarious inhibition." It would seem to be in this dark 
region that we have to search for the beginnings of what later 
becomes a moral attitude. 

A paradox that must be faced is that we are able to describe 
the superego only by using two apparently incompatible termi- 
nologies, one static, and the other dynamic. There is an analogy 
to this in the dilemma of modern physics which has to describe 
its ultimates both as particles and as waves, neither alone being 
able to comprehend all the data. Presumably with psychology 
as with physics it indicates the imperfection of our knowledge. 
On the one hand it seems necessary to describe the superego as 
an object, an introjected object, an entity which can be offered 
to the id to love or hate or fear, in place of an external object, 
originally a parent. And on the other hand, we know that this 
internalized object has no corporeal existence but emanates from 
a process of fantasy which is itself the expression of some 
instinctual drive: here, therefore, we can describe the superego 
only in the dynamic terms of a process, a trend with sexual*, 
aggressive or "moral" aims. If it is a thing it is a very living thing*, 
full of activity: watching, warning, guarding, threatening, punish- 
ing, prohibiting, ordaining, encouraging, and so on. 

The attention paid in the last twenty years by a number of 
London analysts, notably Melanie Klein, to the processes of in- 
trojection and projection in infancy has led to a deeper insight 
into the origins of the superego. In the light of this experience 
Freud's formulations concerning it now seern to me to call for 
an important modification in one respect and important exten- 
sions in two others. 

42 Ernest Jones 

The first of these points relates to Freud's picture of the 
superego as the resolution of the oedipus complex. The child, 
faced with the hopelessness of his oedipus wishes, both because 
of the inexorable privation and because of the fear of punish- 
ment, effects a renunciation of them on condition that he per- 
manently incorporates something of the parents within himself. 
This image of love and dread, derived from both parents, though 
more especially from the one of the same sex, then constitutes 
the superego, which continues to exercise its function of watch- 
ing, threatening and if necessary punishing the ego when there 
is any likelihood of its listening to the now forbidden and re- 
pressed oedipus wishes of the id. Freud thus termed the superego 
the heir of the oedipus complex: its derivative and substitute. 
Now if all this refers to the fully developed and finished product, 
the superego as it will on the whole remain through life, and also 
if one reserves the term superego exclusively to this finished 
product, then Freud's formula still stands. But if it means that 
nothing of the superego is to be discerned until the oedipus 
wishes are renounced according to Freud at about the age of 
four or five then the conclusions based on later experience 
widely depart from it. It is partly a matter of nomenclature, 
though only partly. Freud would restrict the term superego to 
what I have called the finished product, and he would attach the 
greatest importance in its genesis to the oedipus conflicts be- 
tween the ages of three and five. But he would certainly have also 
agreed that there is some further prehistory both to the oedipus 
complex itself (pregenital difficulties, etc.) and perhaps even to 
the anxieties and fear of punishment antedating the classical 
oedipus situation and preparing the ground for the guilt attributes 
of the superego. 

Before taking up the modern modification one is impelled to 
make to this formula of Freud I will briefly mention the two 
other points alluded to above. One concerns the dating of the 
whole matter. We have now much reason to think that both 
the oedipus complex itself, with all its characteristic features 
(carnal desire for the mother, jealousy and hatred of the father, 
fear of castration, etc.) and the superego in a sufficiently de- 
veloped form to be clearly recognizable long antedate the period 

The Genesis of the Superego 4% 

in which Freud envisaged them and reach back certainly t<s the 
second, and perhaps even the first, year of life. Secondly, the fear 
of punishment and also other sources of anxiety which play such 
an essential part in the genesis of the superego do not by any 
means all emanate from the oedipus situation itself, but have 
still deeper origins. To put it plainly, the boy has other reasons 
for anxiety besides the dread of punishment at the hands of his 
paternal rival; they spring more directly from the relation to his 
mother alone. 

As was mentioned above, the reasons for these extensions and 
modifications of Freud's formula come from closer study of the 
processes of introjection and projection. Thanks mainly to the 
work of Melanie Klein, we have become familiar, not merely with 
the early age at which they operate, but with the extraordinary 
and quite continuous interplay between them at every moment of 
the infant's experiences of life. The introjections are what con- 
stitute the superego, but and this is a most essential point 
they are far from simple incorporations of external realities, but 
are to a greater extent incorporations of the infant's projections 
as well. Once this point is grasped one understands that the in- 
fant's own contribution to its future superego is more important 
than those made by the outer world (essentially the parents), a 
conclusion to which Freud would perhaps have demurred. 

We may now return to Freud's view concerning the relation- 
ship of the oedipus complex to the superego. He would un- 
doubtedly have agreed that the child's picture of the prohibiting 
and threatening parent is an exaggerated or distorted one. Though 
fathers may kill or castrate their boy children they very seldom 
do: nevertheless every boy feels these eventualities to be likely 
ones and is in consequence terrified of them. When, therefore, 
Freud says that the superego gains its power of affecting the ego 
from its representing reality demands, 2 one certainly has to add 
"and unreality demands as well": more accurately, the demands 
of psychical reality as well as those of physical reality. In my 
opinion these additions made by the child's imagination to the 
picture of the parent are more important and have a longer 

3 Freud: Collected Papers, Vol. II, pp. 251-253. 

44 Ernest Jones 

and more complicated history than Freud believed likely. And, 
as I pointed out many years ago, 3 the earliest fantasies and con- 
flicts exercise a decisive importance on the form taken by the 
oedipus complex, its course and outcome. 

It is, however, agreed on all sides that these additions exist, so 
at once we are presented with the problem of their origin. Rathei 
to our surprise we find, to start with that the child has a motive 
in magnifying external dangers, i.e., in picturing the parent as 
stricter and more dangerous than he or she actually is. The child 
can find in this way relief from its fears of internal dangers, 
which are more intolerable and are less assuaged by the reassur- 
ance given by the knowledge that the external object (parent) 
after all has some love and that there are limits to his anger. It 
achieves this, of course, by the familiar mechanism of projection. 
The matter, however, is not so simple as this, since the child 
oscillates in his estimate of internal versus external dangers, 
especially when the latter includes the projected ones. The ex- 
ternal bogey may become so fearsome that the child, evidently 
with the aim of securing better control over it, introjects it (into 
its superego). Once inside, however, it again becomes intolerably 
dangerous and the child is compelled to look around for a suit- 
able object in the outer world on whom it can once more 
project it. This double process is continually and perhaps end- 
lessly repeated in the endeavor to procure some relief from the 
anxiety. These desperate expedients show that the child has 
within itself extremely formidable sources of anxiety, for which 
the formation of the superego is one attempted mode of salvation. 
This defensive function of the superego is the main theme of the 
present paper. 

Whence come all these fearsome bogies and with them the need 
for such desperate defenses? The superego is certainly, among 

other things, a cruelly persecuting agency which the ego has good 

reason to dread. But, after all, the superego is only in small part 

thrust on to the growing child by outer prohibitions and con- 
demnations. It is in a larger part its own creation. Why does it 
,faave to create such a very unpleasant institution inside itself? 

* Papers on Psychoanalysis, Fourth Edition, Chapter XXI, p. 457. 

The Genesis oj the Superego 45 

There must be a good reason for its doing so strange a thing. Or, 
put more objectively, the superego must fulfill some highly im- 
portant function of value to compensate for its obvious dis- 

There can be little doubt that the sense of "oughtness" charac- 
teristic of the superego, the source of what later will be a moral 
attitude, is derived from an earlier sense of "mustness." Put in 
other words, the superego's threat to the ego: "You ought not 
to do that and I will punish you if you do" is a replacement of an 
earlier: "You must not do that for it is harmful (or dangerous).'* 
How is this transformation effected from fear into the earliest 
traces of morality, and what is the nature of the fear in question? 
The earliest fears of the child are on the material rather than the 
spiritual plane: they are fears of damage to its interests (priva- 
tion, deprivation, bodily injury, and so on). But in the first year 
of life love and the need for love begin to play an increasingly 
important part. This brings with it a new possibility, the fear of 
losing love by offending or injuring the loved and loving object 
partially the mother. And it is this extension of its needs from 
the bodily to the spiritual plane that effects the transformation 
from mustness to "oughtness." To provoke the risk of castration 
is still a non-moral situation: to run the risk of offending the 
mother and losing her love becomes a "wrong" thing to do. And 
in time, as the relationship with the parents becomes more com- 
plex, it becomes quite as important to abstain from doing wrong 
things as to avoid doing dangerous ones. Perhaps the most 
important region in which this takes place is that of sphincter 
control, the earliest "moral" training of the infant and one which 
takes place long before, according to Freud, the oedipus complex 
is in action, or at all events when it is only in the stage of in- 
ception. Ferenczi, with the intuition of genius, spoke of "sphincter 
morality," sensing that here was to be found the dawn of moral 
attitudes. But he had little comprehension of the rich meanings 
the infant can attach to its excretory activities. They are not 
simply physical needs, though they derive much of their com- 
pulsive nature from this fact, nor simply important components 
of the sexual instinct (urethral and anal erotism). They are also 
vehicles of aggressive and destructive impulses, and are still 

46 Ernest Jones 

further connected with the cannibalistic incorporations of the 
parents that precede or accompany them. When to soil the bed 
signifies to defile, poison or destroy the mother and at the same 
time to reveal that one has swallowed and killed the father then 
one begins to understand in what weighty terms the nurse's 
"normal" training can be conceived. 

The superego may profitably be regarded both as a barrier 
against those forbidden and harmful impulses and also as an 
indirect vent for them. Traces of all the sexual components can 
be found in its activities even if they are imperfectly desexualized. 
The scopophilic impulse reveals itself in the alert watching and 
guarding attitude of the superego; the anal -erotic component 
reactively in the need for orderliness and most important in the 
sense of duty; while the sadistic one is all too obvious in the cruel 
torturing the superego can inflict on the ego. The reaction to 
the more developed genital impulse is shown later in the moral 
condemnation of incest, but besides this is the more positive love 
towards the parental substitute (ego ideal, etc.). 

We have now traced the superego back to premoral stage, one 
which I have previously termed a stage of prenef arious inhibition, 
where its main function would seem to be that of a simple barrier 
against the id impulses or rather against the intolerable anxiety 
that these produce in the ego. At this point it becomes merely 
one defense among others, though one with peculiar history. Its 
special features are due to its formation through introjection of 
parental objects. We may inquire further into the nature of the 
anxiety in question and of the danger arising from the id im- 
pulses. These are problems I have discussed at some length else- 
where, 4 but I will summarize the main conclusions I have reached 
concerning them. 

Whether there is a separate aggressive instinct in man or not, 
it is certain that the sexual one is, especially in its primordial 
stage, essentially aggressive in its nature, far more so than psycho- 
analysts originally thought. So far as I can judge, there appears to 
be no satisfactory evidence of aggression occurring apart from 
some libidinal impulse, which would seem to be always the 

* Op. cit. 

The Genesis of the Superego 41 

starting point. There is good reason to suppose that these aggres- 
sive components are felt by the infant to be in themselves harmful 
or dangerous, quite directly so and apart from any effects on 
either the infant or the loved object. The response to them is 
anxiety, and at first what may be called pre-ideational anxiety, 
i.e., without any sense of the nature of the danger. It is we who 
have to construct from various clues what this danger is. We 
know that physiologically and psychologically the result of sus- 
tained tension from the absence of relief or gratification leads to 
exhaustion. Some parents take advantage of this knowledge to 
leave an angry baby alone "to cry itself out," in my opinion a 
very harmful procedure at that age. The dread of this total ex- 
haustion of the libido I have termed the fear of aphanisis, and 
it is in my opinion the important starting point of the anxiety 
against which the superego, as well as other defenses, is insti- 



Toward a Theory of Personality 
and Neurosis* 

Those who read detailed accounts of the trials of criminal cases 
are often puzzled and baffled by the rule of evidence which re- 
strains a witness from stating conclusions based upon what he 
has perceived and confines him to reporting his perceptions only. 
The witness is expected to tell what he saw and what he heard, 
but his conclusions as to the meanings of these things or as to 
the intentions of the persons concerned in his testimony are sub- 
ject to being ruled out of evidence either by the objection of op- 
posing counsel or by the trial judge himself. The layman often 
finds such procedure difficult to understand, since all of us are 
forever coming to conclusions as to another person's intentions 
when we see him act or hear him speak. But, nevertheless, there 
is wisdom in this rule of evidence: such conclusions are, after 
all, merely the opinions of those who make them and in the final 
analysis only the person who acted or spoke can say what his 
intentions were. This reasoning, arrived at long ago, does not, 
of course, take unconscious mental functioning into account; 
but the witness is no more competent to assay the unconscious 
motivations of another person than that person himself, and a 
psychoanalysis of every person involved in criminal proceedings 
whose unconscious intentions are in question would be cumber- 
some indeed. Ultimately the jurymen must decide this matter of 

* Reprinted by permission from Childhood Experience and Personal Destiny 
(New York, 1952). Copyright, 1952, Springer Publishing Company, Inc. 


Toward a Theory of Personality and Neurosis 49 

intentions, and while their conclusions may be just as unfounded 
as those of a witness, it is felt that, since somebody must decide, 
the defendant's interests are better served by leaving such de- 
cisions to the unanimous opinion of twelve people, supposedly 
personally disinterested, than to the perhaps biased opinion of 
one witness. The point here is that it is a precarious thing to come 
to a conclusion about what is or was in another person's mind, 
conscious or unconscious, unless the other person is able to con- 
firm it by his own words. 

The foregoing statement has great pertinence when we attempt 
to say anything at all about what goes on in the mind of a new- 
born infant or of any child up to the time when he has attained 
a sufficient proficiency in the use of language. The infant is, 
in etymological terms, the unspeaking, and he cannot tell us 
what goes on in his mind. Fond parents, for instance, will often 
suppose that their two month old infant is showing unmistakable 
signs of sociability by smiling at them; the pediatrician, on the 
other hand, tells us that this infant's facial gesture is no smile, 
but a grimace occasioned by gas pains in the abdomen. I have 
no way of saying which interpretation of the infant's behavior 
is right, since only the baby is in a position to know, and he 
is an "unspeaking," an infant. Whatever is stated about the 
nature of consciousness in infancy is necessarily the result of 
conjecture or of reconstruction, reasoning after the fact, and 
can never be definitively proved. 

It is ofen felt by psychologists that we are on safe ground 
in supposing that the fetus exists in a state of complete and 
effortless satisfaction. This supposition is based upon a consider- 
ation of the physiologic circumstances of intrauterine life; physio- 
logically speaking, the fetus is living under optimal conditions, 
It exists enveloped in a warm fluid in which temperature change 
(if any) has an infinitesimal range: its skin cannot feel too cold 
or too hot. It needs to engage in no exertion whatsoever; it does 
not even have to breathe, as all the oxygen it requires is supplied 
to it by the mother's bloodstream, which flows through the fetus 
via the placenta and the umbilical cord. It does not need to di- 
gest, as the food-substances, already prepared by the mother's 
physiologic processes for assimilation, come to it by the same 

50 William V. Silverberg 

means as its oxygen. It does not need to evacuate waste materials, 
as the same flow of blood carries metabolic products from its 
body to the mother's, whose physiologic processes dispose of 
them. It does not need to adjust to changing intensities of light, 
since the womb is a place of perpetual darkness. All this is true 
if the mother is in good health and well fed; if she is not, there 
may be some vicissitudes of fetal life. However, under ordinary 
conditions, a consideration of these physiologic matters would 
seem to justify the conclusion that, psychologically speaking, the 
fetus exists in a state of uninterrupted and effortless satisfaction : 
in other words, a state of physiologic and psychic homeostasis is 
maintained up to the beginning of labor. 

There arise, however, certain questions in connection with 
even this apparently simyple and justifiable conclusion. We need 
not, perhaps, question the physiologic facts. But when, at what 
point in fetal development, may we begin to speak of psychic 
homeostasis? When, if at any time, does or can awareness begin 
in fetal life? Do we have to conclude that in the fetus physiologic 
homeostasis is identical with psychic homeostasis? If so, does that 
identity change, once the fetus is born, and when, and how, and 
why? In cases where the mother is ill and the physiologic home- 
ostasis of the fetus is disturbed, does it have awareness of this? 
Can it experience anxiety? Does the fetus experience anything 
psychically when it is headed for intrauterine death? Such ques- 
tions cannot be answered except by conjecture. The supposition 
that the fetus in the process of birth experiences anxiety, is merely 
a supposition and leaves unanswered the question, When does 
the fetus begin to have the capacity for feeling anxiety? 

Another question involves the meaning of fetal movements, 
which after the fourth month of fetal life can be felt tactilely 
and can often be seen in their impact upon the mother's ab- 
dominal wall. Do the movements signify interruptions of physi- 
ologic homeostasis, and are they attempts to restore it? If so, is 
there any fetal awareness of such interruptions, and how are 
they felt? This query cannot be answered, but the fact that it 
can be asked makes us immediately question the absoluteness of 
the supposed unbroken and effortless satisfaction of fetal life. 
By asking it, we have implied that even the fetus may upon occa- 

Toward a Theory of Personality and Neurosis 51 

sion have a sense of "something is the matter." Perhaps this im- 
plication contains a tentative answer to the question, When does 
the fetal psyche originate? Possibly it begins as soon as the fetus 
is capable of having a sense of "something is the matter," which 
comes about ordinarily during the fifth month of its life. 

In any case, we are cautioned by this line of thought to re- 
gard the concept of unbroken, effortless satisfaction during fetal 
life as a relative one, and to be skeptical about the contention 
that the so-called trauma of birth marks the first experience of 
anxiety in the life of the human organism. It has been pointed 
out by Freud [10, pp. 96 ff., and especially p. 101] that the 
most common somatic manifestations of anxiety acceleration 
of the respiratory rate and of the heart beat have a utility and 
an expediency in the situation of birth that they do not have in 
later situations of anxiety: they aid the organism in performing 
the transition from the placental type of oxygenation and circu- 
latory flow to the autonomous one in which oxygenation depends 
upon the organism's own respiratory efforts and circulatory flow 
depends upon the organism's own cardiac action. 

Freud [10, p. 97] likewise pointed out in the same connec- 
tion that anxiety is characterized not only by such somatic 
phenomena but also by a sensation whose "unpleasurable quality 
seems to have a character of its own." Disturbed physiologic 
homeostasis in the fetus could perhaps cause the fetus to experi- 
ence this unpleasurable sensation, which would thus become the 
most rudimentary manifestation of anxiety, that portion of the 
psychosomatic complex of anxiety which may be present even 
in fetal life, and without the presence of which we should be 
skeptical about a diagnosis of anxiety. Clinically, we often en- 
counter anxiety that has no perceptible somatic manifestations. 
On the other hand, we are accustomed to diagnose anxiety from 
the presence of one or more somatic manifestations (sweating of 
the palms, for instance) even when the unpleasurable subjective 
sensation is denied. Perhaps we should be more skeptical about 
this than we are: either the subject of our diagnosis serves a 
purpose of his own in denying the subjective sensation (for ex- 
ample, maintaining face by denying he is afraid or uncomfortable 
in the given situation), or, if the subjective sensation is actually' 

52 William V. Silverberg 

absent, the somatic manifestation may have a quite different 
significance. Again we are confronted with the difficulty of 
knowing what goes on in the mind of another without verbal 
confirmation from him. Ultimately such confirmation may be 
forthcoming, but meanwhile we do well to maintain a question 
in our own minds. Possibly the fetus feels only discomfort; 
anxiety, as Freud conceived it, perhaps occurs in a full and com- 
plete form only after the experience of birth. We may regard 
the homeostatic state of the fetus as one in which satisfaction 
is only relatively uninterrupted and effortless relatively, that is, 
as compared with postnatal life. 

The newborn infant, now literally cut off from his fetal con- 
nection with his mother's physiologic processes, is utterly helpless 
to survive without the care given by the mother or a surrogate for 
her. His newly acquired respiration and cardiac action fulfill his 
metabolic needs for tissue oxygenation and for exchange within 
the tissues of food-substances for metabolic products; his di- 
gestive system now begins the lifelong tasks of assimilation of 
food and elimination of wastes. He is, physiologically speaking, 
a competent, functioning organism. But there his competence 
ends. He cannot procure for himself the food which, once it is in 
his mouth, he is now competent to handle. He cannot keep him- 
self warm, nor protect himself from any of the myriad dangers 
which beset his intactness and his life. Needs he has and feels, 
for he cries when he is hungry or cold or when he experiences 
pain or other discomfort; but fulfill his needs he cannot. If his 
cry brings no one to divine his need and to satisfy it, he is at 
the end of his resources. 

How the infant feels in this situation of relative helplessness 
relative because, while the cry is his only resource, it is a 
resource is what we should like to know, but can only specu- 
late about. Two workers, Sandor Ferenczi and Trigant Burrow, 
have engaged in what seem to be useful speculations about this 
matter. Even though there is evidence that seems to give support 
to their speculations, it cannot be too strongly emphasized that 
their hypotheses cannot ever be more than provisionally ac- 
cepted, since the unspeakingness of the infant will always limit 

Toward a Theory of Personality and Neurosis 53 

our thinking about the nature of his consciousness to conjecture 
and reconstruction. 

Ferenczi [4] conjectured that the newborn infant, with his 
intrauterine history of unvarying physiologic homeostasis, re- 
garded himself as omnipotent; that, having never known frus- 
tration, the infant supposed this freedom from frustration to be 
the result of his own powers. Ferenczi based this idea on Freud's 
findings [6] in cases of obsessional neurosis and his own clinical 
confirmation of these. The infant's notion of his own omnipo- 
tence, according to Ferenczi, becomes modified, as time goes on, 
in response to two factors: (1) the introduction of more and 
more frustration, producing more frequent and longer delays 
between the incidence of a need and its fulfillment, and more 
frequent and more prolonged disturbances of psychic home- 
ostasis; (2) the emergence, through growth, of new functioning 
better muscular coordination and the rudiments of speech. 
Thus, while at the start of extrauterine life the infant's subjective 
omnipotence operates in a hallucinatory manner (he hallucinates 
fulfillment of his need and it is fulfilled), later on it operates by 
gestures, and still later by words and by thoughts. Ferenczi ap- 
pears to have omitted the cry from this series, but Sullivan [21, 
p. 7] has pointed out that the cry is an instrumentality much 
used by the infant in his effort to live by the use of power. In- 
fantile omnipotence is ultimately renounced, according to Fe- 
renczi, because increasing frustration, resulting from the gradual 
withdrawal of the mother or her surrogate from the role of con- 
stant watchful helper, demonstrates to the child that he does 
not possess omnipotence, reconciles him to the need to take 
into account factors of external reality, and induces in him the 
endeavor to manipulate them toward his ends. Thus the sense of 
omnipotence is replaced by the sense of reality [20, pp. 387 ff.]. 

This replacement is never complete; it is made only to the 
extent that it has a pragmatic value for the child and not because 
the child perceives any moral value or other virtue in adherence 
to his newly acquired sense of reality. In so far as functioning 
in terms of a sense of reality gets him more, in so far as it 
increases the effectiveness of his activity, he is for it; if it fails 

54 William V. Silverberg 

Iiim, if this effectiveness is not increased by it or is perchance 
lowered by it, he will abandon the sense of reality and will at- 
tempt to function in terms of a sense of supposed omnipotence. 
This we see clearly and often in the case of adults, and we may 
therefore postulate it a fortiori in the case of the child. Further- 
more, it should here be remarked that when we speak of omnip- 
otence in the psychic sense, we do not give the word precisely 
the same meaning as we do when we use it in a metaphysical or 
in a theological context. In the latter we mean literally all-power, 
power over everything conceivable, as when we speak of God's 
omnipotence. The omnipotence of the human being, the omnip- 
otence that he sometimes strives for, is more limited in its appli- 
cation: he seeks all-power only over those things which are of 
direct concern to him. While the child might desire all-power 
over the movements and activity of the mother or other person 
significant to him, he would not be interested in power over the 
Argentinians, for example, or over the Paris subway system. 
When we use the concept of omnipotence in human psychology, 
we must confine its application to those factors of the individ- 
ual's world which are of direct and immediate significance to him. 
The speculations of Burrow [3] on the nature of the infantile 
psyche are perhaps implied in Ferenczi's hypotheses, just de- 
scribed, and were certainly assumed by Freud, apparently with- 
out the awareness that Burrow had explicitly formulated them. 
Burrow supposed that psychically the newborn infant exists in 
a "primary subjective phase" of consciousness. By this he meant 
that the infant makes no distinction between self and nonself, 
that he conceives his existence as an unbroken continuum of him- 
self and all the perceived world about him, both persons and 
things. Thus the mother's nipple in his mouth as he sucks milk 
and derives a sensory thrill as well as nourishment from it is 
regarded by him as belonging to his own self, as a part of his 
own body-image, and not as something nonself, belonging to 
another person and able to be used and enjoyed only so long as 
the other person, to whom it belongs, permits. It will be seen that 
this wide, extended concept of self resembles the "oceanic feel- 
ing" mentioned by Freud in Civilization and Its Discontents [11] ? 
where it is related to early states of consciousness. 

Toward a Theory of Personality and Neurosis 55 

The increasing frequency and prolongation of disturbances 
in psychic homeostasis experiences of intensifying frustration 
and the gradual lessening of the mother's or her surrogate's 
constant and alert attention to the infant's comfort and well- 
being, teach the infant that his needs or wishes can often not be 
fulfilled by any efforts of his own; he learns that the satisfaction 
of his wants requires the mediation of another person, one who 
is not always available to him and who, even if available, does 
not always attend to his needs or wishes. Such experience pro- 
duces a gradual disintegration of the primary subjective phase and 
results eventually in the awareness that a sharp distinction exists 
between what is self and what is other, or nonself. Here, too, as 
in Ferenczi's hypothesis of an infantile sense of omnipotence, 
experiences of frustration play a dominant part in the transition 
to a sense of reality in the developing infant. He learns that all 
the world is not encompassed in his own body, that his oceanic 
feeling is illusory and untenable, and that he does not possess 
all-power over all those things which are of significance and 
concern to his comfort and well-being. These lessons are but 
tentatively learned. 

For the infant the sense of reality has no virtue in itself; 
the value of the distinctions he learns to make lies in the fact 
that his disillusionment enables him to adapt himself to the world 
about him in such a way that he can sometimes manipulate its 
various factors to achieve wish-fulfillment more readily than he 
could before he learned the lessons of reality. Bernard S. Robbins 
[15] has shown that this pragmatic attitude toward the sense of 
reality exists in adult life. 

We must assume, for we see the clearest evidences of it not 
only in adult human beings but in the behavior of animals as 
well, that it is inherent in all living organisms to strive toward 
the fulfillment of needs and wishes which have a biologic prov- 
enance and which may or may not have psychic representa- 
tion. By the latter I mean simply that such needs and wishes 
may be felt or they may not be felt. The fact that in acculturated 
human beings and in some animals capable of training, the efforts 
toward such fulfillment of needs and wishes may be temporarily 
or "permanently" inhibited does not vitiate the general state- 

55 William V. Silver berg 

ment: we suppose that the tendency to fulfillment exists even 
when behavior fails to give testimony that it is in operation. The 
man who offers his seat in a crowded bus to a woman would pre- 
fer to remain seated but chooses to discommode himself either 
in the interest of considering himself or of being considered a 
"gentleman" or in the interest of some other form of altruism. 
The man who covets his neighbor's wife would try to take her 
if he could square it with his acculturated set of moral scruples 
or if he did not fear the humiliation of being rejected by her or 
the anger of her husband. Inhibiting factors merely complicate 
the general principle that we set the greatest store by the ful- 
fillment of all that we may wish or need. 

We do well to try to maintain this distinction between wish 
and need, although it is not always easy to distinguish them. 
A need may be defined as that which is necessary to health and 
to survival (for instance, the need for sufficient food to maintain 
health and life) . All else desired may be regarded as wish, re- 
gardless of the intensity with which it is desired. The fulfillment 
of sexual desire, while often felt with great intensity, is never 
necessary to survival, though we often postulate that it is essential 
to psychic or physiologic health. Many instances could be cited 
ia which sexual abstinence is maintained for long periods with- 
out apparent detriment to health. However this may be, whether 
sexual fulfillment in general is to be considered a need or a wish, 
it is true that the fulfillment of sexual desire with a specific 
partner is a wish rather than a need, even though the chooser 
may insist that it is a need. 

It happens often enough that people will make certain con- 
ditions, the fulfillment of which is represented as needs, and then 
bully or otherwise coerce others into fulfilling these conditions. 
A mother, for example, will get it established that she has an 
attack of cardiac failure whenever her grown up son disobeys 
her. Thus her wish to dominate her son is represented as a 
need. A child who intensely wants a particular toy may attempt 
to coerce the parents by saying with great feeling, "I need it, 
I NEED it." Subjectively, one often does not take the trouble 
to distinguish between an intense wish and a need, and often 
enough one is quite sincere in the feeling or statement of need 

Toward a Theory of Personality and Neurosis 57 

where merely a strong wish is involved. Under such circum- 
stances, whether that which is desired might be objectively de- 
fined as a wish or as a need, the individual puts into operation 
whatever procedures he is capable of for bringing about its 
achievement. The degree of success attendant upon these efforts 
comes under the heading of what I have termed effective ag- 
gression. 1 In this sense, effective aggression represents the success 
with which the ego functions in the carrying out of impulses. 
The impulse may be purely biologic in origin or, arising from 
biologic sources, may become greatly modified by experiences 
of acculturation. The impulse to evacuate the rectum when it 
contains feces is purely biologic (physiologic) in origin. Toilet- 
training temporarily inhibits this impulse until culturally suitable 
conditions can be found for its release. 

Effective aggression refers to the executive function of the 
ego. The ego, as Freud saw it, was that part of the psyche in 
closest contact with the external world. Through it, perceptions 
of internal and external reality are received and given meaning. 
The ego also controls the innervations which can produce or 
inhibit muscular action and therefore motility. An impulse aris- 
ing from the id, the great reservoir of that energy which Freud 
called libido, can of itself produce no muscular activity, no 
motility toward its goal, unless the ego acquiesces and sets in 
operation the necessary muscular innervations. Thus no aggres- 
sion, effective or otherwise, can occur, unless initiated by the 
ego. The theoretic difficulty mentioned in the Introduction in 
connection with Freud's instinct-theories now becomes painfully 
apparent. In his conception of the ego, Freud set up an executive 
agency of determining importance: one of its functions is to 
decide whether or not a given impulse shall receive motor 
expression or be inhibited. Yet the energy wherewith the ego 
operates in carrying out this function is not specifically its own: 
the energy is borrowed from precisely the same source from 
which the impulse, now submitted to the ego's decision, arises. 

7 This phrase was introduced in my paper "On the Origin of Neurosis" [17]. 
The interested reader will there find the formulation of this concept (pp. 
116ff.), as well as remarks on the drawbacks involved in the phrase. In the 
latter connection it should be noted that the key-word is effective; the term 
aggression might be replaced by action, activity, behavior, or the like. 

58 William V. Silverberg 

We are confronted with a dilemma: either we are dealing 
with a single, unitary kind of energy, in itself undifferentiated 
and nonspecific in its aims, upon which any psychic agency, 
whether impulse or ego, may draw in its attempts to function; 
or we are dealing with different types of energy, each specific 
to the type of psychic agency concerned. In a sense, Freud 
attempted to encompass both horns of this dilemma. In terms 
of his earlier instinct-theory, libido was a single, unitary type of 
energy, and yet it had a specifically sexual character: it was 
uniformly pleasure-seeking. Freud [7, pp. 460 fL] objected to 
Tung's attempt [12, pp. 77 fL] to define libido as nonspecific, as 
not specifically sexual, and, therefore, as a general, undiffer- 
entiated energy (somewhat equivalent to Bergson's elan vital) 
upon which any psychic agency might draw. Freud ascribed to 
the ego no other source of energy but the libido; furthermore 
in so far as the ego might oppose a libidinal impulse, it had to 
compete with that impulse for enough energy (libido) to make 
good its opposition. 

Freud's concept of primary narcissism carried the implication 
that ego and id had originally been one, without differentiation, 
and that libido was originally at the disposal of this undifferenti- 
ated id-ego, or primitive self. Once the differentiation of id and 
ego occurred, in response to situations threatening the intactness 
of the whole organism (in psychic terms, this id-ego), id and 
ego had to compete for quanta of libido. Freud now spoke of 
ego-libido and object-libido; withdrawal of libido from objects 
resulted in a proportionate accretion of libido to the ego. But 
what psychic agency determined the withdrawal of libido from 
an object, unless it was the ego itself? If libido is to be with- 
drawn from an object, ego-libido would have to be stronger 
than id-libido object-libido can be nothing other than the id's 
investment of an object with desire for pleasure by means of 
that object and the crucial question arises, What factor has 
produced the ascendancy of ego-libido over id-libido? 

The difficulty here is entirely a theoretic one and results from 
the untenability of the hypothesis of libido as both a single, 
unitary energy and a specific pleasure-seeking energy. If, what- 
ever their original state, ego and id are seen to be often in 

Toward a Theory of Personality and Neurosis 59 

opposition one to the other, it is simpler to suppose that their 
obviously different aims are based upon different types of drive 
or energy. The fact that ego and id are often enough not in a 
state of mutual antagonism and that they often operate synergisti- 
cally does not vitiate this hypothesis of their operating upon the 
basis of specifically different drives. Just as different people may 
function, now in antagonism, now in cooperation, so different 
psychic agencies within the same person may function. Indeed, 
effective aggression may be seen as an attempt to achieve 
synergism of id and ego, the goal of total effective aggression 
or omnipotence being an ideal restoration of the primitive id -ego. 
If the ego never opposed or modified an id-impulse, or, putting 
the matter somewhat differently, if every impulse were un- 
questioningly and successfully put into effect by the ego, some- 
thing like omnipotence would have been achieved, something, 
resembling the intrauterine state of effortless satisfaction would 
have been restored, neurosis would no longer exist, and books 
such as the present one would not be written. 

Freud's later instinct-theory does not alter the situation greatly. 
This theory did introduce a new energic principle, that of 
Thanatos, thus destroying the conception of libido as a single, 
unitary energy and requiring it to share the field with another 
energy having a specifically different quality. Freud seemed 
thereby to resolve the aforementioned dilemma, by abandoning 
the first horn of it. But he did not adopt the second horn of this 
dilemma: Thanatos and Eros were equally energies of the id, 
and the ego was still left to borrow one or the other from the id 
or to bring about a variety of fusions and defusions of them, by 
means of what additional energy was not stated. As a matter of 
fact, neither Thanatos nor Eros, as Freud defined them, was 
well adapted to become specifically an ego-drive, since survival 
was given a subordinate role in the theory. Thanatos received 
the major role; it was the death instinct and drove toward non- 
survival in its primary position (directed "inward") and toward 
destructiveness in its secondary position (directed "outward"). 
Eros was regarded as opposed to the death instinct and drove 
toward growth, union with others, and what in general one might 
term constructiveness. To Eros was bequeathed the libido, but, 

60 William V. Silver berg 

since Freud assigned it the minor role, its operations were seen 
as mere temporizings, as detours from the highroad of death, 
as delays and interim arrangements in the major process that 
had as its goal the decay and disintegration of the living, organic 
substances of the body into nonliving, chemically inorganic sub- 
stances. The psyche desired passionately the death of its own 
soma and the destruction of the soma of others; survival meant 
little to it in comparison to the peace of biologic nothingness. 

This metapsychologic picture seems greatly at odds with hu- 
man nature and, in fact, with general organic nature as it 
is observed. Freud [9, chap. 6] himself attempted to deal criti- 
cally with it when he first presented it to the world. He raised 
the questions whether instinctual death is not merely character- 
istic of the metazoa (many-celled animals) as compared with 
the protozoa (single-celled animals), and whether instinctual 
death occurs in the somatic cells of the human body but not in 
the germ-plasm (the sperm and ova), which consists of single- 
celled entities like the protozoa. He showed very clearly that 
death "from natural causes" occurs among the protozoa only 
when external conditions are unfavorable to life in stagnant 
water or in a test tube, where the protozoon is killed by its own 
unremoved metabolic products; or when amphimixis (nonrepro- 
ductive, rejuvenating conjugation between protozoa) is prevented 
from occurring. Freud used these examples to demonstrate his 
point about instinctual death even among the protozoa, but 
what he actually showed by the evidence he adduced is that pro- 
tozoan death occurs only under extraordinary external circum- 
stances in confined, stagnant water or in the absence of the 
opportunity for conjugation. This is not death "from natural 
causes" or endogenous death. It is either accidental death or 

Freud must be credited with having presented his new in- 
stinct theory with a tentativeness disarmingly frank. He wrote 
[9, p. 76], "I might be asked whether I am myself convinced 
of the views here set forward, and if so how far. My answer 
would be that I am neither convinced myself, nor am I seeking 
to arouse conviction in others. More accurately: I do not know 
how far I believe in them." Or again [9, p. 77], "People un- 

Toward a Theory of Personality and Neurosis 61 

fortunately are seldom impartial where they are concerned with 
ultimate things. . . There everyone is under the sway of prefer- 
ences deeply rooted within, into the hands of which he unwit- 
tingly plays as he pursues his speculation." In his later work [11] 
he assumed the validity of his speculation and was never again 
so critical of it. 

I would contend that a metapsychology is useful and valid 
only in so far as it is able to account for observed phenomena, 
and that the metapsychology above described fails to account 
for the drive of all organic life toward survival, which appears 
empirically to take precedence over all other drives, and for the 
executive function of the ego. These are serious deficiencies, and 
Freud's particular "preferences' 1 seem to have relegated the ego 
to the position of stepchild of psychoanalysis. The historical 
reasons for this are well known, but whether they were inherent 
in the material that confronted Freud in his early work and as 
he went along, or whether they were inherent in his prefer- 
ences, is a debatable question. There can be little doubt that it 
is to the advantage of psychology that Freud elected to pursue 
first the study of libidinal factors and their vicissitudes, as these 
needed for their elucidation precisely those unique qualities of 
observation, intuition, and formulation, which he brought to 
the work. Ego psychology is much more obvious and super- 
ficial, and much easier to study and describe. It does not require 
the genius which was uniquely Freud's. It is perhaps unduly 
demanding to have expected Freud to do the thorough job with 
ego factors that he did with libidinal ones. But it seems to me 
that the legitimate task of his successors is to restore to the 
ego its full and proper significance and to assign to it its pro- 
portionate role in the affairs of the human psyche. 

The task demands, I believe, that the ego be given a theoretic 
basis for its functioning; in other words, to postulate for it 
a specific kind of drive or energy which has survival of the 
total organism as its chief goal and which operates by the 
medium of effective aggression. An advantage of the latter con- 
cept is that it permits us to see the ego as concerned with mat- 
ters not accounted for if we regard it as actuated solely, or even 
mainly, by motivations of defense. It is an operational concept 

62 William V. Silverberg 

which accounts for the ego's efforts in the direction of achieve- 
ment as well as of defense. 

The psychologists including Freud, Sullivan (with his anx- 
iety-based self-system), and Horney (with her concept of basic 
anxiety) who base the ego's functioning solely or even mainly 
upon the organism's defensive needs, appear to have overlooked 
one of the outstanding facts in the observable behavior of the 
young child: his obvious tendency to do something, a some- 
thing which is neither defense against nor avoidance of danger, 
but merely wish-fulfilling. Certainly, as we observe the infant 
and the young child, we see that defense is not his only concern 
and that his resources for defense are mobilized and utilized 
only when he senses danger. In the absence of a sense of danger 

which is usually the case during the greater part of each 

twenty-four hours the child is apt to engage in behavior we 
would have to describe as doing something rather than avoid- 
ing something. The infant of eight or nine months does not 
ordinarily spend his waking hours in perceiving dangers and 
devising means of circumventing them; he sits on the floor or 
in his play-pen and manipulates in some fashion that appears 
satisfying to him whatever objects come to his hand: he shakes 
his rattle, he puts the foot or hand of his rag doll into his 
mouth, he vocalizes with apparent joy and enthusiasm, and he 
does such things repeatedly and tirelessly and with obvious 
pleasure. The somewhat older child who has achieved locomo- 
tion has a correspondingly wider repertory of doing. To a vast 
extent the activity of the young child is not defensive but is 
simply pleasurable doing, a patent fact not hitherto adequately 
taken into account in formulating theories of personality and 
neurosis. Freud was able to show in one instance [9, pp. 1 1 ff.] 
that a child's game did have defensive significance, but it may 
be doubted that this is universally, or even most frequently, the 
case (nor did Freud claim that it was). 

It seems reasonable enough to accept Freud's conclusion that 
for reasons of defense the ego becomes differentiated from the 
primitive ego-id continuum and that its origin serves a defensive 
purpose. But it is likewise reasonable to suppose that one of 

Toward a Theory of Personality and Neurosis 63 

the outcomes of this differentiation and therefore perhaps one 
of the considerations motivating it is that the organism as a 
whole is thus placed in a better position to achieve fulfillment 
of its positive needs and wishes. The reasoning here is much like 
that of Freud in one of his early metapsychologic papers [8]: 
experience teaches one the expediency of denying immediate 
fulfillment to some of one's wishes, which is counter to the 
dictates of the pleasure principle; the delay in fulfillment is often 
dictated by the reality principle in order that the ultimate fulfill- 
ment of the wish may be assured. Thus it is seen that the reality 
principle does not differ essentially from the pleasure principle; 
the former is merely a modification of the latter and is adopted 
to make more certain the operation of the pleasure principle in 
its original form. So the differentiation into ego and id, while 
undertaken for defensive reasons and while sacrificing the homo- 
geneity, the oneness, of the primitive self, results in a condition 
superior to the original one the world and its frustrations being 
what they are for the achievement of pleasure-goals. 

Indeed, the ego throughout life is characterized by its tend- 
ency to compromise and to make sacrifices in order to main- 
tain life and to achieve, even though in delayed and partial and 
substitutive fashion, goals signalized by id-impulses. The ego's 
major aim, however, is survival, and in this sense, defense may 
be said to be its cornerstone. Just as a trapped animal will sacri- 
fice a paw or a leg if this enables it to escape from the trap, so 
the ego will sacrifice any id-impulse which, if carried out, seems 
to threaten survival. (Certain "heroic" exceptions to the fore- 
going statement are discussed in the following chapter.) Survival 
is thus the main concern of the ego, and its energic force maty 
thus be defined as whatever in the organism drives toward sur- 
vival. But if survival seems assured or is not threatened, then 
the ego's other task, the achieving of pleasure-goals, becomes 
paramount. The drive for survival must be regarded as primarily 
irrational and as not requiring any rational basis: it merely exists. 
In so far as this drive might be rationalized, the continued op- 
portunity to achieve pleasure-goals, to do, would constitute its 
rationale. I mention this in order to place these two drives in 

64 William V. Silverberg 

proper perspective: the drive for survival cannot be reasoned 
with; when survival is at stake, the ego drops everything else 
and concentrates its adaptative powers upon it. 

Survival is usually striven for even if every potentiality for 
doing is lost. Suicide (or suicidal impulses or thoughts) in such 
circumstances may seem to contradict the primacy of the drive 
for survival and thus to give the drive to do the major role. 
This is true only if suicide is taken at its face value and if the 
fact, clinically demonstrable, is ignored that suicide is essentially 
an act of vengeance and murder, an act calculated to torture, 
through a perpetual bad conscience, the someone else (in some 
instances, perhaps, God) held responsible for one's woes. The 
act of suicide seems postulated upon a conviction of survival 
in some form, a contention supported by many of the popular 
superstitions about death and the dead, particularly, in this in- 
stance, the beliefs concerning the possibility of the dead return- 
ing and haunting their enemies. Relevant here is the common 
unconscious conviction that though dead one remains in a sense 
alive. Frazer [5, chap. 18] deals with such beliefs among primi- 
tive peoples. 

In any case, the concept of effective aggression can encompass 
both the defensive function of the ego (its concern with survival) 
and its function of doing, of achieving the pleasure-goals to 
which the id impels it. 

Thus far I have dealt with effective aggression descriptively, 
endeavoring to define its quality. It is clear, however, that it 
has also a quantitative aspect, which is perhaps the more im- 
portant one for our purpose. For we have to be concerned not 
only with the kind of effort made by the ego in its operations, 
but more importantly with how effective the effort is. To what 
extent is the ego's effort successful? Does the ego achieve what 
it attempts to perform in exactly the manner contemplated in 
its intention at the start of its maneuver? Has it, along the way 
had to compromise? If so, how much less than its original in- 
tention has it had to settle for, or has it had to abandon its 
original goal entirely? If it has had to compromise or abandon 
its goal, what are the causes of this change? Has the ego met 
with obstacles which it may regard as insuperable in the nature 

Toward a Theory of Personality and Neurosis 65 

of things or merely insuperable to it? Is the compromise or failure 
due to deficiencies of the particular ego and its capacities, or 
was the goal to be achieved an impossible one? If the latter alter- 
native obtains, could the difficulty have been foreseen, or was 
the impossibility not predictable and only discoverable in the 
course of the attempt? All these questions and many similar ones 
indicate the quantitative aspects of effective aggression and sug- 
gest how these may be linked to self-esteem. 

Self-esteem may be regarded as the psychic counterpart to 
somatic survival. Totally and continuously effective aggression, 
if such a thing were possible, would result in an indestructible 
self-esteem. On the other hand, failures in effectiveness of aggres- 
sion produce a lowering or loss of self-esteem. In the early weeks 
and months of extrauterine life the relative helplessness of the 
infant ordinarily evokes in the mother an alert attention to his 
needs and their fulfillment. But if, in accordance with Burrow's 
hypothesis, the infant, being in the primary subjective phase, 
does not distinguish between himself and his mother, this alert 
behavior of the latter will produce in him the impression that 
he has brought about the desired restoration of homeostasis and 
that his own doing (whether by hallucination, gesture, cry, word, 
or thought) is responsible for the fulfillment of his need or wish. 
The difficulty of expressing what may go on in the mind of the 
infant still in the primary subjective phase is well illustrated by 
the foregoing sentence. The entire structure of language seems 
predicated upon the distinction between "self" and "other," a 
distinction which we assume the infant has not yet made. A 
more accurate version of the sentence referred to would prob- 
ably be: "This alert behavior on the part of the mother will 
produce in the infant the impression that the desired restoration 
of homeostasis has been brought about and that a certain action 
performed (whether hallucination, etc.) is relevant to the out- 
come (restored homeostasis)." 

Thus the infant's doing or aggression is felt by him as effeo. 
tive to the extent to which the mother fulfills his needs. Tht 
more alert the mother, the briefer and less frequent will be the 
periods of disturbed homeostasis, and in accord with his sub- 
jective bias, the more effective and powerful the infant will feel 

66 William V. Silverberg 

himself to be. It would seem that such a sense of adequacy and 
competence, despite its objective inaccuracy, must be basic to 
self-esteem and must form the foundation of the healthy ego. 

Loretta Bender has pointed out [2] that where such alert care 
by maternal agencies is inadequate (as in foundling institutions, 
for example) the outcome in later childhood and adult life is 
an incurable psychopathy a marked retardation and flatness, 
emotionally and intellectually. Such infants are given no basis 
for the illusion of effective aggression, which the mother's alert 
attention grants to more fortunate ones, and are therefore unable 
to establish that degree of self-esteem upon which healthy ego- 
functioning is based. The work of Bender would suggest that 
a constitutional factor is here operative, for the very frustra- 
tions and delays which, when they occur somewhat later in the 
infant's life, favor the healthy establishment of a sense of reality, 
operate with permanently damaging effect when they occur in 
the earliest weeks and months. It would seem that too much 
disturbance of homeostasis too soon in life cannot be tolerated 
by the psychosomatic constitution as it then exists. 

One is reminded here of Freud's concept (in Beyond the Pleas- 
ure Principle [9]) of a Reizschutz or protective barrier against 
excessive stimuli arising both from the external world and from 
within the organism itself. He likened this to a hard rind devel- 
oping from the surface membrane of an organism of vesicular 
shape, as if the originally delicate surface layer had become 
toughened through continuously repeated contacts with environ- 
mental substances and objects. It is as if, in the situation men- 
tioned above, this psychic Reizschutz had not yet had time to 
develop, so that such stimuli, assailing the organism prematurely, 
break through the surface and do damage to the interior sub- 
stance. The same stimuli, if they can be held off until after the 
Reizschutz has developed, will be fended off by the latter with- 
out damaging effect to inner substance. 

This is a perfectly comprehensible concept, but it is difficult 
to translate it into psychic or somatic or psychosomatic terms. 
It may be conjectured that this difficulty exists because of our 
present ignorance of certain factors whose discovery and eluci- 
dation may not be too far off. The work of Selye [16] and others 

Toward a Theory of Personality and Neurosis 67 

upon the physiologic effects of stress and the manner in which 
the organism meets them and attempts to ward them off or to 
compensate for them would seem to offer the possibility of 
giving substance, not too far off in the future, to Freud's con- 
ception of a Reizschutz and to my attempt to explain the con- 
stitutional nature of the damage, clinically described by Bender, 
which results from too great frustration too early in life. 

In the ordinary case, where the incidence of frustration is 
more gradual and not so drastic, the sense of reality supervenes 
as an acceptance of a distinction between self and other and as 
a realization of limits to one's own power. As has already been 
said, this acceptance and this realization may be unwilling and 
tentative, but by the end of the first year of life they are estab- 
lished in large degree. This change to a sense of reality would 
have to be accompanied by some reduction in effectiveness of 
aggression and some corresponding reduction in self-esteem. 
These effects are, however, counteracted to some extent by the 
emergence of new capacities greatly increased muscular co- 
ordination (with the concomitant power of locomotion) and the 
acquisition of the rudiments of language. Such factors not only 
increase the child's resourcefulness, making him thereby lesi 
helpless than he was at birth, but often produce in his parents 
enthusiastic and affectionate approval. Much of what is lost in 
self-esteem by the reduction in an illusory type of effective ag- 
gression is made up for by these accretions to real effectiveness 
of aggression and by the pleasing sense of being approved of 
and having the favor of these important people, the parents. 
The self-esteem of the one year old is not so absolute or inde- 
structible as it was in infancy; it is more relative and more pre- 
carious, but it exists on the more realistic basis of the actual 
capacities of the child and has the additional support of parental 
approval. , 

Throughout life self-esteem has these two sources: an inner 
source, the degree of effectiveness of one's own aggression; and 
an external source, the opinions of others about oneself. Both 
are important, but the former is the steadier and more depend- 
able one; the latter is always more uncertain. Unhappy and 
insecure is the man who, lacking an adequate inner source for 

68 William V. Silverberg 

self-esteem, must depend for this almost wholly upon external 
sources. It is the condition seen by the psychotherapist almost 
universally among his patients. 

In the child, threats to self-esteem are of two kinds: threatened 
failures of the effectiveness of his aggression and threatened 
withdrawal of parental (mainly maternal) love and approval. 
Such threats constitute the psychic counterpart of threats to 
somatic intactness and survival. In later childhood, threatened 
loss of parental approval may readily equate, in certain instances, 
with threats to somatic survival, since parental love and approval 
may become to the child the guarantee of such survival. The 
relation of this to self-esteem will be discussed in the following 
chapter. In the presence of actual danger to such intactness or 
survival, fear is the emotion felt; and the perception of such 
a danger immediately impending, though not yet present, arouses 
anxiety. Actual injury to self-esteem produces the emotion of 
humiliation, the intensity of which corresponds to the extent of 
the injury. The perception of an impending blow to self-esteem 
produces anxiety, as in the case of apprehended somatic danger. 

Fear and humiliation produce on-the-spot and usually quite 
random measures for dealing with the situations that evoke them. 
One is immediately confronted with a threatening situation and 
must improvise a defense. Such improvisations may or may 
not be successful in avoiding the danger or in mitigating its 
effects; the defense responses may be partially successful, which 
means also partially unsuccessful. 

Anxiety, as differentiated above from both fear and humili- 
ation, produces somewhat different results. Since, in the case of 
anxiety, the danger is not yet actually present, but only impend- 
ing or threatening to be present, there may yet be time to plan 
an effective means of coping with the threat. Forewarned is fore- 
armed, and anxiety has the advantage of a forewarning. 

Because the faculty of perception is involved in such fore- 
sight of dangerous situations, and because perception is one of 
the ego's functions, Freud regarded the ego as the seat and 
point of origin of anxiety. He therefore supposed that measures 
to avert foreseen danger emanate from the ego. Repression is one 
such measure: the ego, aware of an impulse arising from the id. 

Toward a Theory of Personality and Neurosis 69 

perceives from its watchtower overlooking the environment that 
danger from the outside will attack the total organism if an 
attempt is made to carry out the impulse. Such a perception 
arouses anxiety in the ego, and its obvious way of averting the 
danger is to quell the impulse, if it can. The stronger the impulse 
in the ego's own terms, the stronger the temptation to perform 
the act implied by the impulse the greater the anxiety, because 
of the greater likelihood of the ego's initiating the motor actions 
appropriate to expressing the impulse. The ego's best plan, then, 
is to quell the impulse by disowning it, by "forgetting" it, by 
repressing it. 

The ego has other devices for dealing with id-impulses that 
threaten to upset the harmony and safety which the ego has been 
at pains to establish and maintain in the organism's relations 
with the outside world. Prominent among these is reaction-for- 
mation, in which the ego manifests an impulse precisely opposite 
to the one actually aroused in the id by the external situation. 
The impulse manifested in the device of reaction-formation is, as 
Sullivan once pointed out, 2 the appropriate id-syntonic impulse 
with a not prefixed to it. If the original impulse is to kill, reac- 
tion-formation transforms it into to not-kill, which may come to 
mean to take care of. It must be added, however, that reaction- 
formation is not simply a matter of grammar and semantics. If 
the opposite impulse, the one expressed by the prefixed not, does 
not exist in its own right as a psychic potentiality, it cannot be 
used for purposes of reaction-formation. Suppose that the ex- 
ample given arises in a situation of sibling hostility: the original 
impulse, then, is to kill the sibling, but owing to the process 
above described it becomes transformed by reaction-formation 
into the not-kill, take-care-of impulse. This transformation will 
the more readily take place if the child has already evolved some 
tendency to want a baby of his own to take care of, in what- 
ever specific terms he conceives this. In other words, reaction- 
formation involves of necessity some positive quality in the 
not-impulse; the negativity of the not-impulse, taken alone, is 
an insufficient basis for its adoption even as an anxiety-solving 
device. It seems to me likely that where the appropriate not- 
2 In a lecture in Washington, D. C., in 1935, so far as I know unpublished. 

70 William V. Silverberg 

impulse lacks positive value, the ego will be constrained to choose 
a different defensive device, such as repression, for example. 

Regression, another of the ego's defensive devices, handles 
the danger-provoking impulse by expressing it in an earlier form, 
one which has proved in the past to be safe. For example, if 
one's impulse takes the form of seeking pleasure through exhibit- 
ing the penis to the mother in an attempt to seduce her into 
touching it (as in the case of Little Hans [6, pp. 162, 163, 166]) 
and the ego senses danger, emanating from mother or father or 
both, as a likely outcome of such an act, the ego may try to avoid 
the danger and yet to achieve the pleasure by altering the new 
impulse into an old version. Thus, sitting on mother's lap and 
being embraced by her is a way of being pleasurably touched 
which one has found safe by previous experience, or inducing 
her to give one a bath requires that she legitimately wash and 
d r y hence touch one's genitals. 

It is this device of regression which doubtless gave Freud 
the strong impression that libido is an energy whose manifesta- 
tions develop in stages or levels, since old manifestations become 
replaced by new ones and since the tendency toward new mani- 
festations can give place to recurrences of older manifestations 
when difficulties arise. Certainly he was here correctly observing 
a general psychic principle to the effect that when new behavior 
is attempted and for whatever reason fails or seems destined to 
fail of its purposed goal, it is wise to have recourse to something 
tried and true. Folk wisdom expresses the conflict in two anti- 
thetic proverbs: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again," 
and "Let sleeping dogs lie." 

A study of the antitheses frequently observed in folk wis- 
dom has still to be made and would probably prove both inter- 
esting and profitable. Proverbs, which are the vehicles of folk 
wisdom, often exist in opposites, such as the pair just mentioned, 
and indicate the existence of frequent conflict with respect to 
many proposed modes of behavior. Another antithesis: "Make 
hay while the sun shines" do it now; "Don't cross the bridge 
until you come to it" put it off until tomorrow. From the view- 
point of common sense, the fact that mutually contradictory 
proverbs often occur has no very profound meaning: beyond the 

Toward a Theory of Personality and Neurosis 71 

idea that, no form of adaptative behavior has universal applica- 
tion and that people have learned to fit their behavior to differ- 
ent situations as they apperceive them. From the viewpoint, how- 
ever, of unconscious psychic functioning, which often, as we 
have learned, transcends common sense, these antitheses of folk 
proverbs may have a significance similar to that of word-pairs 
which have antithetic meaning but derive from the same etymo- 
logic roots [1], This significance is the existence of profound 
unconscious conflict with reference to all potential modes of 
behavior in important matters: it indicates the deep uncertainty 
with which individuals approach meaningful situations. With 
reference to the ego's defensive device of regression, the conflict 
lies between doing something new which may be dangerous 
and doing something old which is known to be safe. If the 
uncertainty is resolved by adopting the latter behavior, the ego 
has altered the impulse by regression. 

Whether the general principle which is implied by the antithetic 
proverbs and word-pairs supports the idea that, because libidinal 
manifestations show the possibility of regression, they therefore 
normally "develop" in a series of stages, is quite another matter, 
depending upon what is postulated concerning the libido and its 

The devices of the ego thus far mentioned have the common 
quality of being auto plastic. They are self -molding devices and 
attempt to adapt to the environment and its potential dangers 
by producing alterations in the organism's own impulses. The 
impulses may be disowned or postponed (repression in vary- 
ing degrees), or they may be replaced by opposite impulses if 
such exist in their own right (reaction-formation), or they may 
be replaced by older and safer forms of the original impulses 

One may also speak of another group of ego-devices which 
differ from those just enumerated by being alloplastic, or other- 
molding. These seek to alter the environment rather than the self 
and they comprise, doubtless among others, the three maneuvers 
that I have elsewhere described in detail [18, 19, 20]. I shall here 
merely name them as the schizoid, the magical, and the trans- 
ference maneuvers. To classify the two groups of devices as auto- 

11 William V. Silverberg 

plastic and alloplastic is convenient and is accurate in a general 
sense. But it must be realized that the autoplastic devices are 
also alloplastic in that their ultimate aim is to change the en- 
vironment from a dangerous to a safe one, and that the allo- 
plastic devices cannot be engaged in without producing certain 
alterations in the self. 

The autoplastic and alloplastic devices may be further dis- 
tinguished roughly in that the former are in the main oriented 
toward defense, while the latter aie oriented toward achievement 
of pleasure-goals. I characterize this as a rough distinction be- 
cause both types of devices have ultimately a pleasure-goal in 
view and because the alloplastic devices are often motivated by 
concern with security and survival, and particularly with self- 
esteem (which is the psychic version of security and survival). 
In the most common instances, the autoplastic devices are 
adopted because the ego senses that the organism is not safe con- 
stituted as it is and that inner modifications are essential, whereas 
the alloplastic devices, which are modes of attempting to alter 
factors external to the organism itself, may operate with no im- 
mediate purpose of producing inner modifications. The former 
devices might be summed up in the sentence: "I am not safe as 
I am; I'd better change myself"; while the latter might be ex- 
pressed: "I am all right as I am; but I have to change him, her, 
them, or it." Both are adopted in order that aggression may be 
the more effective and therefore that self-esteem may be main- 
tained at the highest possible level. The ego's own survival (self- 
esteem) corresponds to the survival of the total organism, when 
the latter is at stake. When it is not, when somatic survival is not 
involved in the organism's doing, then what is involved is home- 
ostasis, whether described as psychic, somatic, or psychosomatic. 
When not confronted with emergencies that threaten life, the ego's 
chief concern is to maintain a high level of competence and 
thus to avoid illness, whether this takes the form of low self- 
esteem or a bodily deficiency that impairs competence in doing. 

Psychic illness, then, implies illness of the ego low self-es- 
teem primarily occasioned by a diminution in the effectiveness 
of aggression. All of the ego's defensive devices, which are orig- 
inally used to promote and improve this effectiveness, indicate 

Toward a Theory of Personality and Neurosis 73 

that the ego does not feel itself strong enough or safe enough to 
pursue the organism's aim directly; hence, the devices emerge 
in an indirection which not only signalizes a relatively weak ego, 
but which in itself further weakens the ego. The strength of the 
ego lies in the degree to which it is at one with the remainder of 
its own organism. Freud [10, p. 141] pointed out that the differ- 
entiation into ego and id signifies a defect in the human psyche, 
by which he meant that the human psyche functions poorly in so 
far as it is at war with itself, and that this differentiation would 
not have occurred had not the psyche at an early stage of its ex- 
istence fallen into inner conflict. Since this differentiation never 
fails to occur even in the healthiest human being, a certain inner 
psychic disunity seems inevitable in everyone. If the very exist- 
ence of an ego implies some degree of psychic disunity, the 
strength of the ego must always be seen as a relative strength: it 
is more or less at one with the remainder of its organism. 

Whether an ego may rightly be considered as inherently or 
constitutionally strong or weak, is a problem about which we are 
in such profound ignorance that we cannot even propound the 
question in a form that might evoke responses, nor have we any 
idea what factors such constitutional strength or weakness might 
relate to. Our ignorance is here so complete that any statement 
concerning the constitutional strength or weakness of the ego 
would be begging the question and would necessarily reflect, not 
truth, but one's Weltanschauung. The very question may in itself 
be a species of non sequitur since, from a strictly biologic point 
of view, the ego should not even exist (if the emergence of the 
ego is to be regarded as a psychobiologic defect) . 

It is best to leave untouched this question of a constitutional, 
inherent quality of the ego. We can only know that, regardless 
of such a factor, the specific experiences of the organism in its 
specific environment appear closely related to the ego's necessity 
to adopt devices of indirection, to the extent to which these are 
adopted in general, and to the specific nature of these devices in a 
given case. Likewise related to specific experiences is the matter 
of whether a given device is temporarily adopted, to be later 
abandoned, or whether it becomes permanently characteristic of 
the given ego. We may say, then, that the ego becomes weak or 

74 William V. Silverberg 

strong (perhaps we should say weaker or stronger, supposing 
constitutional factors to exist) as a result of what its organism 
specifically experiences. It grows to be less at one with the re- 
mainder of the psyche (more conflicted) or more at one (less 
conflicted), depending upon its life-situation, which, in early 
life, is mainly the situation presented by the human environment 
(the biologic family, in our society) . 

It is unnecessary to labor here the factor of cultural relativity. 
It is by now well known from Sullivan's postulates on inter- 
personal relations, and from the pioneering work of A. Kardiner 
[13, 14] that different societies (geographically as well as tem- 
porally different) evolve markedly varied forms and that each 
society attempts to mold its denizens to its own specific form. 
Kardiner's concept of basic personality implies that what is "nor- 
mal" or well-adapted personality in one culture is "pathologic 5 * 
or maladapted personality in another. 

In the consideration of the kind of experience that favors 
growth or diminution of ego-strength equivalent, respectively, 
to psychic health or psychic illness (neurosis) I shall be con- 
cerned solely with our own culture. By "our own culture" I mean 
specifically the American culture. This may be at times extended 
to include the contemporary culture of western civilization as a 
whole, or it may at times be narrowed down to the form of cul- 
ture extant along the northern Atlantic seaboard of this country. 
It is not always possible to be aware when one is being exces- 
sively general in one's cultural assumptions and when one is 
being too provincial. 


[1] ABEL, KARL: Ueber den Gegensinn cTer Orworte. Reviewed by S. Freud in 
Jahrb. f. Psychoanalytische Forschungen 4-349-352, 1910. 

[2] BENDER, LORETTA: An observation nursery; a study of 250 pre-scliool 
children on the psychiatric division of Bellevue Hospital. Am. /. Psychiat. 
97:1158-1172, 1941. Infants reared in institutions permanently handi- 
capped. Child Welfare League of America Bulletin 24:1-4, 1945. 
There is no substitute for family life. Child Study (April) 1946. 

Toward a Theory of Personality and Neurosis 75 

Psychopathic Behavior Disorders in Children. In LINDER AND SELIGER: 

Handbook of Correctional Psychology. New York, Philosophical Library, 


Anxiety in Disturbed Children. In HOCH, P. H., and ZUBIN, j.: Anxiety, 

New York, Grime & Stratton, 1950. 

[3] BURROW, TRIGANT: Cited in MacCurdy, J. T.: Problems of Dynamic 
Psychology. New York, The Macmillan Company, 1923, pp. 188 ff. 

[4] FERENCZI, SANDOR: Entwicklungsstufen des Wirklichkeitssinnes (1913). 
In Bausteine zur Psychoanalyse. Vienna, International Psychoanalytischer 
Verlag, 1927, vol. 1. 

[5] FRAZER, SIR JAMES GEORGE: The Golden Bough. New York, The 
Macmillan Company, 1951, abridged ed. 

[6] FREUD, SIGMUND: Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-year-old Boy (1909). 
Collected Papers, Volume 3, 1925. 

[7] - . Notes upon an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia 
(Dementia Paranoides) (1911). Collected Papers, Volume 3, 1925. 

[8] - : Formulations Regarding the Two Principles of Mental Func 
tioning (1911). Collected Papers, Volume 4 (1925). 

[9] - : Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Transl. by C. J. M. Hubback 
New York, Boni & Liveright, 1922. 

: Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety. Transl. by A. Strachey. 

London, The Hogarth Press, 1936. 

[11] - . Civilization and Its Discontents. Transl. by J. Riviere. London, 
The Hogarth Press, 1946. 

[12] JUNG, c. G.: The Psychology of the Unconscious. Transl. by Beatrice 
Hinkle. London, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Company, Ltd., 1922. 

[13] KARDINER, A.: The Individual and His Society. New York, Columbia 
University Press, 1939. 

14] - : w jth the collaboration of Ralph Linton, Cora Du Bois, and 
James West: The Psychological Frontiers of Society. New York, Columbia 
University Press, 1945. 

[15] ROBBINS, BERNARD s.: Escape into reality. Psychoanalyt. Quart. 6:353- 
364, 1937. 

[16] SELYE, HANS: Stress. Montreal, Acta, Inc., 1950. 

[17] SILVERBERG, WILLIAM v.: On the origin of neurosis. Psychiatry 7:111 
120, 1944 

76 William V. Silverberg 

[18] : The schizoid maneuver. Psychiatry 10:383-393, 1947. 

[19] . The concept of transference. Psychoanalyt. Quart. 17:303-321, 


[20] : The factor of omnipotence in neurosis. Psychiatry 12:387-398, 


[21] SULLIVAN, HARRY STACK: Conceptions of Modern Psychiatry. Washington, 
The William Alanson White Psychiatric Foundation, 1947. First pub- 
lished in Psychiatry 3:1-117, 1940. 


Ego Psychology and Interpretation 
In Psychoanalytic Therapy* 

While during half a century of its history the development of 
psychoanalysis has been comparatively little influenced by simul- 
taneous discoveries in other fields of science, the various appli- 
cations of psychoanalysis have almost continuously influenced 
each other. It is in this sense that the history of psychoanalysis 
can be viewed as a progressive integration of hypotheses. The 
clearest interrelationship exists between clinical observations 
and the development of both psychoanalytic technique and 
theory [23, 24]. The development of the structural point of 
view in psychoanalysis, i.e., the development of psychoanalytic 
ego psychology, can profitably be traced in terms of such an 
interdependence. Freud was at one point influenced by his col- 
laborators in Zurich who impelled him to an intensified interest 
in the psychoses. This led him to formulate the concept of nar- 
cissism and thus to approach the ego not as a series of isolated 
functions but as a psychic organization. The second group of 
clinical impressions that favored the development of a structural 
psychology was the observation by Freud of individuals moti- 
vated by an unconscious sense of guilt, and of patients whose 
response to treatment was a negative therapeutic reaction. These 
types of behavior reinforced his conception of the unconscious 

* Presented at the panel on Technical Implications of Ego Psychology at the 
midwinter meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association, New York, 
December 1948. Reprinted by permission from the Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 
Vol. 20, No. 1, 1951. Copyright, 1951, by The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, Inc 


78 Ernst Kris 

nature of self-reproaches and autopunitive tendencies, and thus 
contributed to the recognition of important characteristics of 
the superego. There is little doubt that other clinical impres- 
sions to which Freud referred during these years were derived 
from what we would today describe as "character neuroses*' 
cases in whose analyses the unconscious nature of resistance and 
defense became particularly clear and which, therefore, facilitated 
formulations of unconscious and preconscious functions of the 

However, these events were not fortuitous. Nobody can be- 
lieve that the clinical impressions of which we speak reached 
Freud accidentally. Surely Freud did not turn to the study of 
psychoses merely to engage in polemics with Jung, or in response 
to suggestions of Abraham; nor can it be assumed that his inter- 
est in character neuroses was due only to an increase in the inci- 
dence of character neuroses among his patients during the early 
1920's, and hence to a "psychosocial" event [17] though it is 
probable that such a change of frequency distribution occurred. 
It is obviously more sensible to assume that a readiness in the 
observer and a change in the objects observed were interacting. 

Freud's readiness for new formulations is perhaps best attested 
by the fact that the principles of ego psychology had been antici- 
pated in his Papers On Technique 1 [18]. Most of these papers 
were written contemporaneously with his first and never com- 
pleted attempt at a reformulation of theory, which was to be 
achieved in the Papers On Metapsychology. 2 The precedence 
of technical over theoretical formulations extended throughout 
Freud's development. It was evident during the 1890's when 
in the Studies in Hysteria 3 Freud reserved for himself the sec- 
tion on therapy and not that on theory. Several years later, 
when his interest in dreams and neuroses was syntheti/ed, and 
the importance of infantile sexuality gained ascendancy, he was 
first concerned with a modification of therapeutic procedure: 
the "concentration technique" was replaced by the technique 

1 Freud: Coll. Papers, II. 
3 Freud: Coll. Papers, IV. 

8 Freud (with Breuer) : Studies in Hysteria. Translated by A. A. Brill. New 
York: Nervous and Mental Disease Monographs, 1936. 

Psychology and Interpretation in Psychoanalytic Therapy 79 

of free association [22]. Similarly, Freud's papers on technique 
during the second decade of the century anticipate by implica- 
tion what a few years later he was to formulate in terms of ego 
psychology. His advice that analysis should start from the sur- 
face, and that resistance be analyzed before interpreting content 
implies principles basic in ego psychology. This accounts for 
the status of Freud's papers on technique in psychoanalytic 
literature: they have retained a pivotal position and most trea- 
tises on technique have illustrated or confirmed rather than 
modified his rare fundamental precepts. If one rereads Freud's 
address to the Psychoanalytic Congress in Budapest in 1918 [11], 
one becomes aware of the fact that many current problems con- 
cerning the variation of technical precepts in certain types of 
cases, as well as the whole trend of the development that at pres- 
ent tries to link psychoanalytic therapy to psychotherapy in the 
broader sense, were accurately predicted by Freud. The develop- 
ment which he predicted became possible, however, through the 
new vistas that ego psychology opened to the earliest and prob- 
ably best systematized modifications of psychoanalytic tech- 
niques, the development of child analysis by Anna Freud, the 
psychoanalysis of delinquents by Aichhorn, and later to some 
of the various modifications of technique in the psychoanalytic 
treatment of borderline cases and psychoses. 

Not only did ego psychology extensively enlarge the scope of 
psychoanalytic therapy, but the technique of psychoanalysis of 
the neuroses underwent definite changes under its impact. These 
changes are part of the slow and at times almost imper- 
ceptible process of development of psychoanalytic technique. 
Isolated changes which constitute this development are difficult 
to study because what one may describe as change can also be 
viewed as difference, and differences in technique among ana- 
lysts who share approximately the same fundamental views may 
be due to many factors; however, if we study the trends of 
changing attitudes, we are in a more favorable position. 

Neither all nor most of the changes in psychoanalytic tech- 
nique are consequences of the development of some aspect of 
psychoanalytic theory. If we reread Freud's older case histories, 
we find, for example, that the conspicuous intellectual indoctri- 

30 Ernst Kris 

nation of the Rat Man was soon replaced by a greater emphasis 
on reliving in the transference, a shift which has no apparent 
direct relation to definite theoretical views. Similarly, better 
understanding and management of transference was probably 
not initially connected with any new theoretical insight. It was 
a process of increasing skill, of improved ability, in which Freud 
and his early collaborators shared, 4 not dissimilar to that process 
of a gradual acquisition of assurance in therapy which character- 
izes the formative decade in every analyst's development. But 
other changes in psychoanalytic therapy can, I believe, clearly 
be traced to the influence of theoretical insight. 5 Every new 
discovery in psychoanalysis is bound to influence to some extent 
therapeutic procedure. The value of clinical presentations is 
that in listening to them we are stimulated to review our own 
clinical experiences, revise our methods, and to profit in what 
we may have overlooked or underrated from the experience of 
others. To assess this influence of ego psychology it is necessary 
to recall the ideas which developed synchronously with or sub- 
sequent to the new structural orientation: the psychoanalytic 
theory of instinctual drives was extended to include aggression, 
and the series of ontogenetic experiences studied included in 
ever greater detail precedipal conflicts deriving from the unique- 
ness of the mother-child relation. A historical survey of the 
psychoanalytic literature would, I believe, confirm that these 
new insights were having reverberations in therapy, influencing, 
however, mainly the content of interpretation and not the tech- 
nique of therapy in a narrower sense. A gradual transformation 
of technique came about largely through better understanding 
and improvement in the handling of resistances. In interpret- 
ing resistance we not only refer to its existence and determine 
its cause, but seek also its method of operation which is then 

* Such a view is not uncontested. In describing her own development as an 
analyst Ella Sharpe stresses the fact that only familiarity with the structural 
concept, particularly the superego, enabled her to handle transference problems 
Adequately [31, p. 74]. For a similar report of his early technical vicissitudes 
see also Abraham [1]. 

5 This naturally does not apply to all individuals. The relation of theoretical 
insight to therapeutic procedure varies from analyst to analyst, and there^ is no 
evidence upon which to base ail opinion as to which type of relation is 

Ego Psychology and Interpretation in Psychoanalytic Therapy 81 

reviewed in the context of other similar types of behavior as 
part of the defensive activities of the ego. Resistance is no 
longer simply an "obstacle" to analysis, but part of the "psychic 
surface" which has to be explored. 6 The term resistance then 
loses the unpleasant connotation of a patient who "resists" a 
physician who is angry at the patient's opposition. This was the 
manifestation of a change in what may be described as the 
"climate" of analysis. 

In one of his last papers Freud [12] defended analytic in- 
terpretations against the reproach of arbitrariness especially in 
dealing with resistance; he discussed in detail the criteria accord- 
ing to which, by the patient's subsequent reaction, correctness 
of the interpretations can be verified. In doing so he stresses 
an area of cooperation between analyst and patient and implic- 
itly warns against dictatorially imposed interpretations. 7 That 
does not mean that it is possible or desirable always to avoid 
opposition of the patient to any interpretation, but it means 
that through the development of ego psychology a number of 
changes in the technique of interpretation have come about 
not "random" changes, characteristic of the work of some 
analysts and not of others, but changes that constitute a set 
of adjustments of psychoanalytic technique to psychoanalytic 


To clarify issues, I cite first a simplified version of an incident 
in the analysis of a six-year-old boy reported by Anna Freud [6, 
p. 119]. The visit to the dentist had been painful. During his 
analytic interview the little boy displayed a significant set of 
symptomatic actions related to this experience. He damaged or 

These or similar formulations of the analysis of resistance were achieved in 
two steps, in the writings of Wilhelm Reich [27, 28], and of Anna Freud [6]. 
The difference between them is significant. Reich regards the problem pre- 
dominantly as one of technical "skill"; formulations tend to be oversimplified or 
exaggerated. They lead to the rigorous "resistance" or layer analysis, the short- 
comings of which have been criticized by Hartrnann [18]. By Anna Freud, 
resistance is fully seen as part of the defensive function of the ego. 

7 Waelder [33] has further elaborated this point 

82 Ernst Kris 

destroyed various objects belonging to the analyst, and finally 
repeatedly broke off the points and resharpened a set of pencils. 
How is this type of behavior to be interpreted? 

The interpretation may point to retaliatory castration, may 
stress the turning of a passive experience into an active one, or 
may demonstrate that the little boy was identifying himself with 
the dentist and his aggression. All three interpretations can 
naturally be related to the anxiety which he had experienced. 
The choice between these and other possible interpretations will 
clearly depend on the phase of the analysis. The first interpreta- 
tion, an "id interpretation," is directly aimed at the castration 
complex. The second and the third aim at mechanisms of 
defense. The second emphasizes that passivity is difficult to 
bear and that in assuming the active role danger is being mas- 
tered. The third interpretation implements the second by pointing 
out that identification can serve as a mechanism of defense. It 
might well prove to be a very general mechanism in the little 
boy's life. It may influence him not only to react aggressively, 8 
but to achieve many goals, and may be the motivation of many 
aspects of his behavior. The interpretation that stresses the 
mechanism of identification is, therefore, not only the broadest, 
but it may also open up the largest number of new avenues, and 
be the one interpretation which the little boy can most easily 
apply in his self-observation. He might learn to experience cer- 
tain of his own reactions as "not belonging" (i.e., as symptoms) 
and thus be led an important step on the way toward readiness 
for further psychoanalytic work. 

We did not choose this example to demonstrate the poten- 
tialities of an interpretation aimed at making the use of a mecha- 
nism of defense conscious, but rather in order to demonstrate 
that the situation allows for and ultimately requires all three 
interpretations. A relevant problem in technique consists in 
establishing the best way of communicating the full set of 
meanings to the patient. The attempt to restrict the interpreta- 
tion to the id aspect only represents the older procedure, the one 

8 This is probably what Anna Freud means when she says that the child was 
not identifying himself "with the oerson of the aggressor but with his aggres- 

Ego Psychology and Interpretation in Psychoanalytic Therapy 83 

which we believe has on the whole been modified by the change 
of which we speak. To restrict interpretation to the defense 
mechanism only may be justifiable by the assumption that the 
patient is not yet ready a valuable piece of caution, though it 
seems that there is a tendency among some analysts to exaggerate 
such caution at times. It may also happen that though we care- 
fully restrict the range of interpretation the patient reacts as if 
we had not done so. While our interpretation points to the 
mechanism by which he wards off danger (e.g., identification) , 
the next set of associations causes the patient to react as if we 
had interpreted his femininity. A sequence of this kind indi- 
cates normal progress: the interpretation concerns the warding- 
off device, the reaction reveals the impulse warded off. 9 

No truly experimental conditions can be achieved in which 
the effects of alternative interpretations can be studied. Com- 
parisons of "similar cases" or comparisons of patients' reactions 
to "similar situations" help us to reach some useful generaliza- 
tions. The occasional situation under which somewhat more 
precise comparisons can be made is the study of patients who 
have a second period of analysis with a different analyst. The 
need for a second analysis is no disparagement of the first analyst, 
nor does it imply that the first course of treatment was unsuc- 
cessful. In several instances of reanalysis in which I functioned 
as second analyst, the first analysis had been undertaken at a 
time when the problems of ego psychology had not yet influ- 
enced analytic technique, or by a colleague who (at the time) 
did not appreciate its importance. The initial treatment had 
produced considerable improvements, but the very same prob- 
lems appeared in a new light, or new relationships, when inter- 
pretations of a different kind, "closer to the surface," were 
"inserted." In a few of the cases in which these conditions 
existed, a published record of the first analysis was available and 
furnished some reliable comparison. 

At the time of his second analysis a patient, who was a young 

9 Another apparent discontinuity or "jump" in reaction, no less frequent and 
no less important, is designated by what Hartmann calls "the principle of 
multiple appeal" in interpretations [18]. Examples of this kind make the idea 
of interpretation proceeding in layers, advocated by Wilhelrn Reich, highly 
doubtful [27, 28]; see also in this connection Nunberg [26] and Alexander [2]. 

$4 Ernst Kris 

scientist in his early thirties, successfully filled a respected aca- 
demic position without being able to advance to higher rank 
because he was unable to publish any of his extensive researches. 
This, his chief complaint, led him to seek further analysis. He 
remembered with gratitude the previous treatment which had 
improved his potency, diminished social inhibitions, producing 
a marked change in his life, and he was anxious that his resump- 
tion of analysis should not come to the notice of his previous 
analyst (a woman) lest she feel in any way hurt by his not return- 
ing to her; but he was convinced that after a lapse of years he 
should now be analyzed by a man. 

He had learned in his first analysis that fear and guilt pre- 
vented him from being productive, that he "always wanted to 
take, to steal, as he had done in puberty." He was under con- 
stant pressure of an impulse to use somebody else's ideas 
frequently those of a distinguished young scholar, his intimate 
friend, whose office was adjacent to his own and with whom 
he engaged daily in long conversations. 

Soon, a concrete plan for work and publication was about 
to materialize, when one day the patient reported he had just 
discovered in the library a treatise published years ago in which 
the same basic idea was developed. It was a treatise with which 
he had been familiar, since he had glanced at it some time ago. 
His paradoxical tone of satisfaction and excitement led me to 
inquire in very great detail about the text he was afraid to 
plagiarize. In a process of extended scrutiny it turned out that 
the old publication contained useful support of his thesis but 
no hint of the thesis itself. The patient had made the author 
say what he wanted to say himself. Once this clue was secured 
the whole problem of plagiarism appeared in a new light. The 
eminent colleague, it transpired, had repeatedly taken the pa- 
tient's ideas, embellished and repeated them without acknowl- 
edgment. The patient was under the impression he was hearing 
for the first time a productive idea without which he could not 
hope to master his own subject, an idea which he felt he could 
not use because it was his colleague's property. 

Among the factors determining the patient's inhibitions in 
his work, identification with his father played an important part. 

Ego Psychology and Interpretation in Psychoanalytic Therapy 85 

Unlike the grandfather, a distinguished scientist, the father had 
failed to leave his mark in his field of endeavor. The patient's 
striving to find sponsors, to borrow ideas, only to find that they 
were either unsuitable or could only be plagiarized, reproduced 
conflicts of his earlier relationship with his father. The projec- 
tion of ideas to paternal figures was in part determined by the 
wish for a great and successful father (a grandfather) . In a 
dream the oedipal conflict with the father was represented as 
a battle in which books were weapons and conquered books were 
swallowed during combat. This was interpreted as the wish to 
incorporate the father's penis. It could be related to a definite 
phase of infancy when, aged four and five, the little boy was 
first taken as father's companion on fishing trips. "The wish 
for the bigger fish," the memory of exchanging and comparing 
fishes, was recalled with many details. The tendency to take, 
to bite, to steal was traced through many ramifications and dis- 
guises during latency and adolescence until it could be pointed 
out one day that the decisive displacement was to ideas. Onl^ 
the ideas of others were truly interesting, only ideas one could 
take; hence the taking had to be engineered. At this point of the 
interpretation I was waiting for the patient's reaction. The pa- 
tient was silent and the very length of the silence had a special 
significance. Then, as if reporting a sudden insight, he said: 
"Every noon, when I leave here, before luncheon, and before 
returning to my office, I walk through X Street [a street well 
known for its small but attractive restaurants] and I look at the 
menus in the windows. In one of the restaurants I usually find 
my preferred dish fresh brains." 

It is now possible to compare the two types of analytic ap- 
proach. In his first analysis the connection between oral aggres- 
siveness and the inhibition in his work had been recognized: 
"A patient who during puberty had occasionally stolen, mainly 
sweets or books, retained later a certain inclination to plagiarism. 
Since to him activity was connected with stealing, scientific 
endeavor with plagiarism, he could escape from these repre- 
hensible impulses through a far-reaching inhibition of his ac- 
tivity and his intellectual ventures" [30]. The point which the 
second analysis clarified concerned the mechanism used in 

86 Ernst Kris 

inhibiting activity. The second set of interpretations, therefore, 
implemented the first by its greater concreteness, by the fact 
that it covered a large number of details of behavior and there- 
fore opened the way to linking present and past, adult symp- 
tomatology and infantile fantasy. The crucial point, however, 
was the "exploration of the surface." The problem was to estab- 
lish how the feeling, "I am in danger of plagiarizing," comes 

The procedure did not aim at direct or rapid access to the id 
through interpretation; there was rather an initial exploratory 
period, during which various aspects of behavior were carefully 
studied. This study started on a descriptive level and proceeded 
gradually to establish typical patterns of behavior, present and 
past. 10 Noted first were his critical and admiring attitudes of 
other people's ideas; then the relation of these to the patient's 
own ideas and intuitions. At this point the comparison between 
the patient's own productivity and that of others had to be 
traced in great detail; then the part that such comparisons had 
played in his earlier development could be clarified. Finally, 
the distortion of imputing to others his own ideas could be ana- 
lyzed and the mechanism of "give and take" made conscious. 
The exploratory description is aimed, therefore, mainly at 
uncovering a defense mechanism and not at an id content. The 
most potent interpretative weapon is naturally the link between 
this defense and the patient's resistance in analysis, an aspect 
which in the present context will not be discussed in any detail. 
The exploratory steps in this analysis resemble those which 

10 The value of similar attempts at starting from careful descriptions has 
been repeatedly discussed by Edward Bibring. I quote his views from a brief 
report given by Waelder [32, p. 471]. "Bibring speaks of 'singling out' a 
patient's present patterns of behavior and arriving, by way of a large number 
of intermediate patterns, at the original infantile pattern. The present pattern 
embodies the instinctual impulses and anxieties now operative, as well as the 
ego's present methods of elaboration (some of which are stereotyped responses 
to impulses and anxieties which have ceased to exist). Only by means of the 
most careful phenomenology and by taking into consideration all the ego 
mechanisms now operative can the present pattern of behavior be properly 
isolated out. If this is done imperfectly ... or if all the earlier patterns are 
not equally clearly isolated, there is a danger that we shall never arrive at a 
correct knowledge of the infantile pattern and the result may well be an 
inexact interpretation of infantile material." 

Ego Psychology and Interpretation in Psychoanalytic Therapy 87 

Helene Deutsch [3] describes in a strikingly similar case, in 
which the unconscious tendency to plagiarize ideas of an ad- 
mired friend led to so severe a memory disturbance that the 
psychoanalytic method was used to eliminate fully the diagnosis 
of neurological disease. Had it been possible to obtain material 
from the childhood of Helene Deutsch's patient, we might have 
been able to link similarities and dissimilarities in the early 
history oi both men to the later differences in the structure of 
their defenses and their symptomatology. 11 The mechanism 
described and made conscious in our patient's analysis, the id 
impulse, the impulse to devour, emerged into consciousness and 
further steps of interpretation led without constraint into the 
area which the first analysis had effectively analyzed. It is 
naturally not claimed that such procedures were altogether new 
at the time. There surely always have been analysts who ap- 
proach a problem of interpretation approximately as outlined 
here. This type of approach has to some extent been systema- 
tized by the support and guidance of ego psychology. It seems 
that many more analysts now proceed similarly and that they 
have gained the impression that such a shift in emphasis is thera- 
peutically rewarding. 12 

Planning and Intuition 

One difference between older and newer methods of analyzing 
defense mechanisms and linking "surface" and "depth" of psy- 
choanalytic findings to each other deserves a more detailed dis- 
cussion. The advance in theory has made the interrelations of 
various steps in analytic work clearer and has thus facilitated 
communication about these problems. We can now teach more 

u When analyzing the patient here discussed I was familiar with Deutsch's 
paper. Without being consciously aware of it, I followed her example when 
entering into the detailed examination of the patient's intellectual pursuits. 

13 In the case here discussed the analysis was interrupted by the Second 
World War. During its course the patient published at least one of the con- 
tributions he had for a long time planned to publish. He intended to resume 
analysis after the end of the war but contact with him could not be re-estab- 
lished at the time. I have since heard that he has found satisfaction in his 
home life and in his career. 

88 Ernst Kris 

accurately both the "hierarchy" and the "timing" of interpreta- 
tions, and the "strategy" and "tactics" of therapy [25]. We are, 
however, gradually becoming aware of many uncertainties in 
this area. In speaking of hierarchy and timing of interpreta- 
tions, and of strategy or tactics in technique, do we not refer 
to a plan of treatment, either to its general outline or to one 
adapted to the specific type of case and the specific prognosis? 
How general or specific are the plans of treatment which indi- 
vidual analysts form? At what point of the contact with the 
patient do the first elements of such plans suggest themselves, 
and at what point do they tend to merge? Under what condi- 
tions are we compelled to modify such impressions and plans; 
when do they have to be abandoned or reshaped? These are 
some of the questions on which a good deal of our teaching in 
psychoanalysis rests, and which are inadequately represented 
in the literature. 13 The subject is of considerable importance 
because in using checks and controls on prediction we could 
satisfy ourselves as to the validity and reliability of tentative 
forecasts of those operations on which analytic technique partly 
depends. 14 

The tendency to discuss "planning" and "intuition" as alterna- 
tives in analytic technique permeates psychoanalytic writings 
though it has repeatedly been shown that such an antithesis is 
unwarranted. 15 Theodor Reik's and Wilhelm Reich's unprofit- 
able polemics against each other are liberally quoted in such 
discussions. In my opinion not only this controversy but the 
problem which it attempted to clarify is spurious. It is merely 

13 See Fenichel [4J, Glover [14, 15], Sharpe [31] and particularly Lorand 
[23] who discuss some of these problems. A group of colleagues has started a 
highly promising method of investigation. Long after graduation from super- 
vised work, they continue regularly to consult with several others on some of 
their cases over periods of years in order to make comparisons of the analytic 
""style" among the consultants. It is to be hoped that this comparison will in- 
clude the problem of prediction in analytic discussions. 

u The idea of small teams working over a number of years (with or without 
institutional backing) seems rapidly to be gaining ground among analysts. The 
comparison of technique in general and specifically the study of planning and 
predicting might well be ideally suited to stimulate team work, which, if 
adequately recorded, might prove to be of considerable documentary value. 

3S See Fenichel [4] ? and particularly Herold [19] and Grot j aim [16], who 
spaake similar points. 

Ego Psychology and Interpretation in Psychoanalytic Therapy 89 

to be determined at what point preconscious thought processes 
in the analyst "take over" and determine his reaction, a question 
which touches upon every analyst's personal experience. There 
are some who are inhibited if they attempt consciously to for- 
mulate the steps to be taken, with whom full awareness acts 
as inhibition or distraction. There are those who at least from 
time to time wish to think over what they are doing or have done 
in a particular case, and others who almost incessantly wish to 
know "where they are." No optimal standard can be established. 
The idea, however, that the preconscious reactions of the analyst 
are necessarily opposed to "planning" seems, in the present stage 
of our knowledge about preconscious thought processes, to say 
the least, outdated [21]. 

Once we assume that the optimal distance from full awareness 
is part of the "personal equation" of the analyst, the contribution 
of preconscious processes gains considerable importance. 16 For 
one thing, it guarantees the spontaneity that prompts an analyst 
to say to a patient who showed considerable apprehension OB 
the eve of a holiday interruption of analysis: "Don't trouble, I 
shall be all right." Many may at first feel that Ella Sharpe [31, 
p. 65], who reported this instance, had taken a daring step, and 
that her unpremeditated short cut went too far. But on second 
thought we may conclude that, provided the patient had been 
suitably prepared for the appearance of aggressive impulses 
within the transference, the wit of the interpretation may have 
struck home and created insight. Whether or not one approves 
of such surprise effects and I confess my own hesitation it is 
obvious that conscious premeditation could hardly bring them 
about. But even those of us who do not share the ebullient mas- 
tery of Ella Sharpe have reason to believe in the constructive 
contribution of intuition. Let me briefly refer to a patient who 
had been analyzed as a child, and whom I saw fifteen years after 
his first analytic experience had been interrupted through the 
influence of a truly seductive mother who could no longer bear 
to share the child with the child analyst. I was familiar with 
some of the aspects of the earlier analysis. Some of the symp- 

10 See Freud's description of these relationships in various passages of his 
early papers [13, p. 334]. 

90 Ernst Kris 

toms had remained unchanged, some had returned, particularly 
prolonged states of sexual excitement, interrupted but hardly 
alleviated by compulsive masturbation or its equivalents, which 
in some cases led to disguised impulses toward exhibitionism. 
Long stretches of the analysis were at first devoted to the details 
of these states of excitement. It became clear that they regu- 
larly were initiated and concluded by certain eating and drink- 
ing habits. The total condition was designated by the patient 
and myself as "greed." In a subsequent phase phallic fantasies 
about the seductive mother were gradually translated into oral 
terms; the violent demand for love became a key that opened 
up many repressed memories which had not been revealed dur- 
ing the child's analysis. At one point, however, the process be- 
gan to stagnate, the analysis became sluggish, when suddenly a 
change occurred. During one interview the patient manifested 
vivid emotions; he left the interview considerably moved and 
reported the next day that "this time it had hit home." He now 
understood. And as evidence he quoted that when his wife had 
jokingly and mildly criticized him he had started to cry and, 
greatly relieved, had continued to cry for many hours. What 
had happened? In repeating the interpretation I had without 
conscious premeditation used different terms. I did not speak 
of his demand for love, but of his need for love or expressions 
with a connotation which stressed not the aggressive but the 
passive craving in his oral wishes. Intuition had appropriately 
modified what conscious understanding had failed to grasp or, 
to be kinder to myself, had not yet grasped. This instance may 
serve to illustrate the necessary and regular interaction of plan- 
ning and intuition, of conscious and preconscious stages of 
understanding psychoanalytic material. It is my impression that 
all advances in psychoanalysis have come about by such interac- 
tions, which have later become more or less codified in rules of 

Whenever we speak of the intuition of the analyst, we are 
touching upon a problem which tends to be treated in the 
psychoanalytic literature under various headings. We refer to 
the psychic equilibrium or the state of mind of the analyst. One 
oart of this problem, however, is directly linked to the process 

Psychology and Interpretation in Psychoanalytic Therapy 91 

of interpretation. Many times a brief glance in the direction 
of self-analysis is part and parcel of the analyst's intervention. 
The interconnection between attention, intuition, and self- 
analysis in the process of interpretation has been masterfully 
described by Ferenczi [5]: 

"One allows oneself to be influenced by the free associations 
of the patient; simultaneously one permits one's own imagina- 
tion to play on these associations; intermittently one compares 
new connections that appear with previous products of the 
analysis without, for a moment, losing sight of, regard for, and 
criticism of one's own biases. 

"Essentially, one might speak of an endless process of oscil- 
lation between empathy, self-observation, and judgment. This 
last, wholly spontaneously, declares itself intermittently as a 
signal that one naturally immediately evaluates for what it is; 
only on the basis of further evidence may one ultimately decide 
to make an interpretation." 


[1] ABRAHAM, KARL: (1919) A Particular Form of Neurotic Resistance Against 
the Psychoanalytic Method. In: Selected Papers on Psychoanalysis. 
London: Hogarth Press, 1942. Second Edition. 

[2] ALEXANDER, FRANZ: The Problem of Psychoanalytic Technique. Psycho- 
analytic Quarterly, IV, 1935. 

[3] DEUTSCH, HELENS: Uber bestiznmte Widerstarzdsformen. Int. Ztschr. 
Psa. u. Imago, XXIV, 1939. 

[4] FENICHEL, OTTO: Problems of Psychoanalytic Technique. Albany: The 
Psychoanalytic Quarterly, Inc., 1941. 

[5] FERENCZI, SANDOR: (1927) Die Elastizitat der psychoanalytischen 
Technik. In: Bausteine zur Psychoanalyse, III. Bern: Hans Huber Verlag, 

[6] FREUD, ANNA: (1936) The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense. New 
York: International Universities Press, 1946. 

[7] FREUD, SIGMUND: (1910) The Future Prospects of Psychoanalytic Ther- 
apy. Coll. Papers, Sx 

92 Ernst Kris 

[8] : (1912) The Dynamics of the Transference. Coll. Papers, II. 

[9] . (1912) Recommendations for Physicians on the Psychoanalytic 

Method of Treatment. Coll. Papers, II. 

[10] , : (1913) Further Recommendations on the Technique of 

Psychoanalysis. Coll. Papers, II. 

[11] . (1918) Turnings in the Ways of Psychoanalytic Therapy. Coll. 

Papers, II. 

[12] : (1937) Constructions in Analysis. Coll. Papers, V, 

[13] . Aus den Anfangen der Psychoanalyse. London: Imago Pub- 
lishing Co., Ltd., 1950. 

[14] GLOVER, EDWARD: Lectures on Technique in Psychoanalysis. Int. J. Psa., 
VIII and IX, 1927 and 1928. 

[35] : An Investigation of the Technique of Psychoanalysis. Research 

Supplement No. 4 to the Int. J. Psa., 1940. 

[16] GROTJAHN, MARTIN: About the Third Ear in Psychoanalysis. Psa. Rev., 
XXXVII, 1950. 

[17] HALLIDAY, JAMES L.: Psychosociai Medicine. New York: W. W. Norton 
& Co., Inc., 1948. 

[18J HARTMANN, HEINZ: Technical Implications of Ego Psychology. Psycho- 
analytic Quarterly, XX, 1951. 

[39] HEKOLD, CARI. M. : A Controversy About Technique. Psychoanalytic 
Quarterly, VIII, 1939. 

[20] KRIS, ERNST: On Inspiration. Int. J. Psa., XX, 1939. 

[21] : On Preconscious Mental Processes. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 

XIX, 1950. 

[22j : Introduction to Freud: Aus den Anfangen aer Psychoanalyse, 

[23] LORAND, SANDOR: Technique of Psychoanalytic Therapy. New YorK: 
International Universities Press, 1946, 

j24j ; Comments on Correlation of Theory and Technique. Psycho- 
analytic Quarterly, XVII, 1948. 

[25] LOEWENSTEIN, RUDOLPH M.: The Piottem of Interpretation. Psycho- 
analytic Quarterly, XX, 1951. 

j^6j NUNBERG, HERMAN: On the Theory of Therapeutic Results of Psycho- 
analysis. Int. J. Psa., XVIII, 1937. 

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[27] REICH, WILHELM: (1928) On Character Analysis. In: The Psychoanalytic 
Reader. Edited by Robert Fliess. New York: International Universities 
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(1933) Character Analysis. New York: Orgone Institute Press, 

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[30] SCHMIDEBERG, MELiTTA: Intelkktudle Hemmung und Ess-stoning. 
Ztschr.f. psa. Pad., VIII, 1934. 

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lected Papers on Psychoanalysis. London: Hogarth Press, 1950. 

[32] WAELDEX., ROBERT: The Problem of the Genesis of Psychical Conflict iir 
Earliest Infancy. Int. J. Psa., XVIII, 1937. 

[33] : Kriterien der Deutung. Int. Ztschr. f. Psa. u. Imago, XXIV. 



Freud was the first to identify anxiety as the centred problem 
in neurosis. A study of the changes in our understanding of the 
nature and significance of anxiety demonstrates the developing 
trends in psychoanalytic thinking. The paper by May describes 
the changes through which Freud's observations passed, from 
the original formulation on a solely physiological basis to the 
later conception of anxiety as a response to the danger from 
significant figures as a result of libidinal desires. The danger 
from the significant persons was the threat of castration (in the 
male); later the danger was internalized as fear of the individual's 
own conscience, or social anxiety. The paper by Fromm-Reich- 
mann elaborates on the role of anxiety in interpersonal related- 
ness, and its place in the fabric of our social structure. 



Freud's Evolving Theories 

of Anxiety* 

Though others, like Kierkegaard, had preceded Freud in recog- 
nizing the crucial importance of the problem of anxiety in 
understanding human behavior, Freud was the first in the 
scientific tradition to see the fundamental significance of the 
problem. 1 More specifically, he directed attention to anxiety as 
the basic question for the understanding of emotional and psy- 

* Reprinted by permission from The Meaning of Anxiety (New York, 
1950). Copyright 1950 by The Ronald Press Company. 

1 Freud stands in the line of those explorers of human nature of the 
nineteenth century -including Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer who re- 
discovered the significance of the irrational, dynamic, "unconscious" elements 
in personality. (Cf. Thomas Mann, Freud, Goethe, Wagner [New York r 
1937].) These aspects of personality had tended to be overlooked and in 
many ways suppressed by the rationalistic preoccupations of most Western 
thinking since the Renaissance. Though Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Freud 
attacked the rationalism of the nineteenth century for different reasons, they 
had in common the conviction that the traditional modes of thought omitted 
elements vital for the understanding of personality. The so-called irrational 
springs of human behavior had been left outside the accepted area of scientific 
investigation or lumped under the so-called instincts. Freud's reaction against 
the endeavors of academic medicine of his day to explain anxiety by "de- 
scribing the nerve-pathways by which the excitations travel" and his conviction 
that the methods of academic psychology of his day yielded little or no help 
in the dynamic understanding of human behavior which he sought can be 
understood, it seems to this writer, in this light. At the same time, Freud felt 
himself to be an enthusiastic champion of science in his avowed intention 
of making the "irrational" elements in behavior explicable in terms of his. 
broader concept of scientific method. That he carried over into his work some 
of the presuppositions of the nineteenth century traditional (physical) science 
is illustrated in his libido theory, which will be commented on below. 


98 Rollo May 

chological disorders; anxiety, he notes in his later essay devoted 
to this topic, is the "fundamental phenomenon and the central 
problem of neurosis." 2 

Students of dynamic psychology would no doubt agree that 
Freud is the pre-eminent explorer of the psychology of anxiety, 
that he both showed the way and gave many of the most efficacious 
techniques for the understanding of the problem, and that there- 
fore his work is of classic importance even though it is now 
widely believed that many of his conclusions must be qualified 
and reinterpreted. To study Freud on anxiety is to become aware 
that his thinking on the topic was in process of evolution 
throughout his life. His theories of anxiety underwent many 
minor changes as well as one revolutionary change. Since anxiety 
is so fundamental a question, it cannot be given any simple 
answers; and Freud significantly confesses in his last writings 
that he is still presenting hypotheses rather than a "final solution" 
to the problem. 3 Therefore we shall endeavor in this survey not 
only to present Freud's central insights and his innumerable 
observations into the mechanics of anxiety, but also to plot 
the directions in which his concept of anxiety was evolving. 

To begin with, Freud makes the customary distinction be- 
tween fear and anxiety which we have already noted in the work 
of Goldstein and others. Freud holds that in fear the attention is 
directed to the object, whereas anxiety refers to the condition 
of the individual and "ignores the object." 4 To him the more 

2 The problem of anxiety, trans. H. A. Bunker (American eel; New York, 
1936), p. 111. 

8 New introductory lectures in psychoanalysis (New York, 1933), p. 113. 

* Genera/ introduction to psychoanalysis, p. 343. Beyond this brief dis- 
tinction, Freud does not either in the chapter on anxiety in the General 
introduction to psychoanalysis or in his later Problem of anxiety throw much 
illumination on the problem of fear as such. He treats Stanley Hall's list of 
allegedly innate fears, such as fear of darkness, fear of bodies of water, of 
thunder, etc., as phobias, which are by definition expressions of neurotic 
anxiety. In a summary of Freud's views in W, Healy, A. F. Bronner, and 
A. M. Bowers, The structure and meaning of psychoanalysis (New York, 
1930), p. 366, a distinction between real fear and neurotic fear is made which 
is parallel to Freud's distinction between real and neurotic anxiety. Real fear, 
it is stated, is the reaction to an objective danger, whereas neurotic fear is the 
"fear of an impulse claim," Freud is interpreted as holding that "three 
practically universal childhood fears" fear of being alone, fear of darkness, 
and the fear of strangers arise out of the "unconscious Ego's fear of loss of 

Freud's Evolving Theories of Anxiety 99 

significant distinction is between objective (what we would term 
"normal") and neurotic anxiety. The former, "real" anxiety, is 
the reaction to an external danger; he conceives it as a natural, 
rational, and useful function. This objective anxiety is an ex- 
pression of the "instincts of self-preservation," "The occasions 
of it, i.e., the objects or situations about which anxiety is felt, 
will obviously depend to a great extent upon the state of the per- 
son's knowledge and feeling of power regarding the outer 
world." 5 This "anxious readiness," as Freud terms objective 
anxiety, is an expedient function, since it protects the individual 
from being surprised by sudden threats (frights) for which he 
is unprepared. Objective anxiety does not in itself constitute a 
clinical problem. But any development of anxiety beyond the 
initial prompting to survey the danger and make the best prep- 
aration for flight is inexpedient: it paralyzes action. "The anx- 
ious readiness therefore seems to me the expedient element, 
and the development of anxiety the inexpedient element, in 
what we call anxiety or dread." 6 It is, of course, this develop- 
ment of anxiety in amounts out of proportion to the actual dan- 
ger, or even in situations where no ostensible external danger 
exists, which constitutes the problem of neurotic anxiety. 

Freud's First Theory: Anxiety as Repressed Libido. 7 How is 
it possible, Freud asks in his early writing, to bring the phe- 
nomenon of neurotic anxiety into logical relationship with 
objective anxiety? In the endeavoi to answer this question he 
cites his observations in clinical work. He had noticed that pa- 
tients who exhibit inhibitions or symptoms of various sorts are 
often remarkably free from overt anxiety. In phobias, for ex- 
ample, the patient exhibits an intense concentration of anxiety 
on one point in his environment namely, the object of his 
phobia but he is free from anxiety at other points in his en- 

the protecting object, namely, the mother" Ibid. This is synonymous with 
his definition of the source of anxiety in similar situations; apparently the 
terms "fear" and "anxiety" are here used interchangeably, the former being the 
term for the emergence of anxiety in specific form. 

5 General introduction to psychoanalysis, p. 342. 

Ibid., p. 343. 

7 The first and second theories have to do with the mechanics, as contrasted 
with the origins, of anxiety. 

100 Rollo May 

vironment. In obsessional acts, likewise, the patient seems to 
be free of anxiety so long as he is permitted to carry out his act 
in unmolested fashion, but as soon as he is prevented from 
performing the obsessional act, intense anxiety appears. So, 
Freud reasoned understandably, some substitutive process must 
be occurring, i.e., the symptom must in some way be taking the 
place of the anxiety. He observed at the same time that his 
patients who experienced continual sexual excitation which was 
ungratified he cites cases of coitus interruptus, for one example 
also exhibited a good deal of anxiety. Hence, he concluded, 
the substitutive process occurring must be the interchange of 
anxiety, or anxiety-equivalents in the form of symptoms, for 
unexpressed libido. He writes, "libidinal excitation disappears 
and anxiety appears in place of it, both in the form of expectant 
dread and in that of anxiety attacks and anxiety-equivalents." 8 
Looking back from a later date on the observations which led 
to this theory, Freud remarks, "I found that certain sexual prac- 
tices, such as coitus interruptus, frustrated excitement, enforced 
abstinence, give rise to outbreaks of anxiety and a general pre- 
disposition to anxiety which may be induced whenever, there- 
fore, sexual excitation is inhibited, frustrated, or diverted in the 
course of its discharge in gratification. Since sexual excitement 
is the expression of libidinal instinctual impulses, it did not 
seem rash to suppose that through the influence of such dis- 
turbances the libido became converted into anxiety." 9 

The first theory, therefore, states that when libido is repressed, 
it becomes transformed into anxiety, and then reappears as 
free-floating anxiety or as an anxiety-equivalent (symptom). 
"Anxiety is thus general current coin for which all the affects are 
exchanged, or can be exchanged, when the corresponding idea- 
tional content is under repression.*' 10 When an affect is repressed, 
its fate is "to be converted into anxiety, no matter what quality 
of affect it would otherwise have been had it run a normal 
course." 13L The source of the child's anxiety at missing his 

8 General introduction to psychoanalyse, p. 348. 

"The problem of anxiety (American ed.; New York, 1936), pp. 51-52. 

10 General introduction to psychoanalysis, p. 3 50. 

rbiU, p. 355. 

Freud's Evolving Theories of Anxiety 101 

mother, or at the appearance of strange people (which represents 
the same danger situation as missing the mother, since the pres- 
ence of the strange people signifies the mother's absence), lies 
in the fact that the child cannot then expend his libido towards 
the mother, and the libido is "discharged through being converted 
into anxiety." 12 

Recalling that objective anxiety is a flight-reaction to external 
danger, Freud asks what the individual is afraid of in neurotic 
anxiety. The latter, he answers, represents a flight from the 
demands of one's own libido. In neurotic anxiety "the ego is 
attempting a flight from the demands of its libido, and is treat- 
ing this internal danger as if it were an external one." "Re- 
pression is an attempt at flight on the part of the ego from libido 
which it feels to be dangerous: the phobia (for example) may be 
compared to a fortification against the outer danger which now 
stands for the dreaded libido." 13 To summarize Freud's first 
theory of neurotic anxiety: the individual experiences Hbidinal 
impulses which he interprets as dangerous, the Hbidinal impulses 
are repressed, they become automatically converted into anxiety, 
and they find their expression as free-floating anxiety or as symp- 
toms which are anxiety-equivalents. 

This first endeavor of Freud's to formulate a theory of anxiety 
is undeniably based initially on observable clinical phenomena: 
everyone has noticed that when strong and persistent desires 
are held in check or repressed, the individual will often exhibit 
chronic restlessness or various forms of anxiety. But this is a 
phenomenological description, which is a quite different thing 
from a causal explanation of anxiety as Freud himself was 
later to acknowledge. Furthermore, the phenomenon of sexual 
repression resulting in anxiety is by no means consistent; the 
"frank libertine," as Mowrer puts it, may be a very anxious 
person, and many well-clarified persons may bear a great deal 
of sexual abstinence without anxiety. On the positive side, this 
first theory does have the value of emphasizing the intrapsychic 
locus of neurotic anxiety. But the suggested mechanism of auto- 
matic conversion of libido an attractive concept, perhaps chiefly 

12 Ibid, p. 353. 
18 Ibid, p. 355. 

102 Rollo May 

because it fits chemical-physiological analogies so handily is 
highly dubious, as Freud himself was later to see. Some of the 
inadequacies of the first theory can best be seen by following 
the clinical observations and reasoning which led Freud to re- 
ject it. 

Freud's Second Theory: Anxiety as the Cause of Repressions. 
On later analysis of patients with phobias and other anxiety 
symptoms, Freud found that a quite different process with 
respect to anxiety was occurring. A new theory was made neces- 
sary, too, by his increasing emphasis on the role of the ego, 
which had played only an auxiliary part in the first theory. 14 

He demonstrates the analysis which led to the new theory 
with the case of Hans, the five-year-old boy who refused to go 
out into the street (the inhibition) because of his phobia of 
horses (the symptom). Hans had considerable ambivalence 
toward his father, which Freud explains in classical Oedipus 
fashion. The little boy felt strong desires for the love of his 
mother and consequent jealousy and hatred of his father. But at 
the same time he was devoted to his father in so far as his 
mother did not enter the picture as a cause of dissension. Because 
of the father's strength, the aggressive impulses in Hans would 
cue off anxiety. The hostility carries with it frightening possi- 
bilities of retaliation, and it also involves the boy in continuous 
ambivalence toward a father to whom he is at the same time 
devoted; hence the hostility and related anxiety undergo repres- 
sion. These affects are then displaced upon horses. Without 
going into detail about the mechanism of phobia formation, we 
wish only to make Freud's point that the phobia of horses is a 
symptomatic representation of Hans's fears of his father. Freud 
interprets this fear in typical castration terms: the fear of the 
bite of the horse is fear of having the penis bitten off. "This 
substitute formation [i.e., the phobia] has two patent advan- 
tages: first, that it avoids the conflict due to ambivalence, for the 
father is an object who is at the same time loved; and secondly, 

"The division of the mental personality into a super-ego, ego and id ... 
has forced us to take up a new position with regard to the problem of 
anxiety." New introductory lectures, p. 118. 

Freud's Evolving Theories of Anxiety 103 

that it allows the ego to prevent any further development of 
anxiety." 15 

The crucial point in this analysis is that the ego perceives the 
danger. This perception arouses anxiety (Freud speaks of the 
"ego" arousing anxiety), and as an endeavor to avoid the anxiety 
the ego effects the repression of the impulses and desires which 
would lead the person into danger. "It is not the repression that 
creates the anxiety," Freud now remarks against his first theory, 
"but the anxiety is there first and creates the repression!" m 
The same process holds true for other symptoms and inhibitions: 
the ego perceives the danger signal, and the symptoms and 
inhibitions are then created in the endeavor to avoid the anxiety. 
We may now, writes Freud, take the new view that the "ego 
is the real locus of anxiety, and reject the earlier conception 
that the cathectic energy of the repressed impulse automatically 
becomes converted into anxiety." 17 

A qualification is now also made by Freud in his earlier state- 
ment that the danger feared in neurotic anxiety is that simply of 
inner instinctual impulses. Speaking of Hans, he writes, "But 
what sort of anxiety can it be? It can only be fear of a threatening 
external danger; that is to say, objective anxiety. It is true that 
the boy is afraid of the demands of his libido, in this case of 
his love for his mother; so that this is really an instance of 
neurotic anxiety. But this being in love seems to him to be an 
internal danger, which he must avoid by renouncing his object, 
only because it involves an external danger-situation [retaliation, 
castration]." Though this interrelationship of external and in- 
ternal factors was found by Freud in every case he investigated 
during this later period, he confesses "that we were not prepared 
to find that the internal instinctual danger was only a half-way 
house to an external and real danger-situation." 18 

15 The problem of anxiety, p. 80. 
10 New introductory lectures, p. 119. 

17 The problem of anxiety, p. 22. 

18 New introductory lectures, p. 120. This interrelationship between internal 
and external factors, in Freud's viewpoint, can be demonstrated in terms of 
conditioned-response psychology. If Hans were merely afraid of his father's 
punishment (as an external danger), Freud would not call his anxiety neu- 
rotic. The neurotic element enters because of the ego's perception of the 
danger inherent in the internal instinctual promptings (Hans' s hostility toward 

104 Rollo May 

Many students of anxiety feel that this second theory, with its 
emphasis on the ego function, makes possible a more adequate 
description of the mechanics of anxiety. Symonds points out 
that the second theory is more compatible with other psychologi- 
cal approaches to the problem. 19 In similar vein, Homey holds 
that whereas the first theory was essentially "physiochernical," 
the second is "more psychological." In any case, the second 
hypothesis evidences some clear and significant trends in Freud's 
understanding of anxiety, which will be discussed below. 

Origins of Anxiety. Freud states that the capacity for anxiety 
is innate in the organism, that it is part of the self-preservation 
instinct, and that it is phylogenetically inherited. In his words, 
"we ascribe to the child a strong tendency to objective anxiety 
and should regard it as only practical if this apprehensiveness 
had been transmitted by inheritance." 20 Specific anxieties, how- 
ever, are taught: of genuine "objective anxieties" by which 
Freud means fear of climbing on window sills, fear of fire, etc. 
"the child seems to bring very little into the world." And "it 
is entirely due to training that real anxiety does eventually awake 
in him." 21 We take this to mean that in Freud's viewpoint the 
tendency to, or capacity for, anxiety is part of the individual's 

his father, for example). Now it is well known that inner promptings in the 
individual's experience can come easily to stand for external, objective dangets. 
If hostility toward the parent is met by retaliation, the child will soon be 
conditioned to experience anxiety whenever the hostile promptings arise intra- 

It is questionable whether one ever encounters purely "internal" or "ex- 
ternal" factors in a given organism's behavior and whether, therefore, some 
falsification is not involved in the use of these terms. This query will be 
dealt with more fully below. 

10 Symonds, The dynamics of human adjustment, op. eft. 

^General introduction to psychoanalysis, p. 353. Whether capacities or 
traits can logically be said to be "phylogenetically inherited" is, of course, 
questionable. See Goldstein in Chapter 3 of this book [The Meaning of 
Anxiety, pp. 48-57]. It is doubtful to the present writer whether the phy- 
logenetic concept is useful except in terms of transmission via culture. 

21 Ibid. Freud takes maturation into account: "A certain predisposition to 
anxiety on the part of the infant is indubitable. It is not at its maximum 
immediately after birth, to diminish gradually thereafter, but first makes its 
appearance later on with the progress of psychic development, and persists 
over a certain period of childhood." The .problem ot anxiety, p. 98. 

Freud's Evolving Theories of Anxiety 105 

innate capacity, whereas the specific forms this anxiety will take 
are due to learning. 

Beyond the above general statement, Freud finds the origin 
of anxiety in the birth trauma and fear of castration. These two 
concepts are interwoven and progressively reinterpreted in his 
writings. The affect which comes with anxiety, Freud holds in 
his early lectures, is a reproduction and repetition of some par- 
ticular very significant previous experience. This he believed to 
be the birth experience "an experience which involves just 
such a concatenation of painful feelings, of discharges and excita- 
tion, and of bodily sensations, as to have became a prototype for 
all occasions on which life is endangered, ever after to be re- 
produced agcdn in us as the dread or 'anxiety' condition." He 
adds, foreshadowing his later broadening of the birth concept, 
"It is very suggestive too that the first anxiety state arose on the 
occasion of the separation from the mother." 22 The child's hav- 
ing anxiety at the appearance of strange people and its fears of 
darkness and loneliness (which he terms the first phobias of the 
child) have their origin in dread lest the child be separated from 
his mother. 

It is an important question, in reviewing Freud's later writ- 
ings, how far he was considering the birth experience as a literal 
source of anxiety, to be cued off by later danger situations, and 
how far he regarded it as a prototype in a symbolic sense, i.e., 
symbolic for separation from the loved object. Since he places 
great emphasis on castration as the specific source of anxiety 
underlying many neuroses, he is at pains to explain how castra- 
tion and the birth experience are interrelated. We shall, there- 
fore, now investigate how he progressively reinterprets and in- 
terrelates castration and the birth experience page by page in 
his chief essay on anxiety. 23 Speaking of the danger underlying 
the development of phobias, conversion hysteria, and compulsion 
neuroses, he notes, "in all these, we assume castration anxiety 
as the motive force behind the struggles of the ego." 24 Even fear 

22 General introduction to psychoanalysis, p. 344. 
28 The problem of anxiety. 
* Ibid., p. 75. 

106 Rollo May 

of death is an analogue of castration, since no one has actually 
experienced death but everyone has experienced a castration-like 
experience in the loss of the mother's breast in weaning. He 
then speaks of the danger of castration "as a reaction to a loss, 
to a separation," of which the prototype is the birth experience. 
But he is critical of Rank's too specific deduction of anxiety and 
consequent neurosis from the severity of the birth trauma. In 
reaction against Rank, he holds that the danger situation in birth 
is "the loss of the loved (longed for) person," and the "most 
basic anxiety of all, the 'primal anxiety' of birth, arises in con- 
nection with separation from the mother." 25 Castration he now 
relates to the loss of the mother by Ferenczi's reasoning: the 
loss of the genital deprives the individual of the means of later 
reunion with the mother (or mother substitute). Fear of cas- 
tration later develops into dread of conscience, i.e., social anxiety; 
now the ego is afraid of the anger, punishment, loss of love of 
the superego. The final transformation of this fear of the super- 
ego consists of death anxiety. 26 

Thus we are presented with a hierarchy: fear of loss of the 
mother at birth, loss of the penis in the phallic period, loss of 
the approval of the superego (social and moral approval) in the 
latency period, and finally loss of life, all of which go back to the 
prototype, the separation from the mother. All later anxiety 
occasions "signify in some sense a separation from the mother," 27 
which must mean that castration stands for the loss of a prized 
object of value, in the same sense as birth stands for the loss 
of the mother. Another datum which impelled him to interpret 
castration in a nonliteral fashion was the fact that the female 
sex, "certainly more predisposed to neurosis," as he remarks, 
cannot suffer literal castration because of the absence of a penis 
to begin with. In the case of women, he states that anxiety arises 
over fear of the loss of the love of the object (mother, husband) 
rather than loss of the penis. 

Though one cannot be certain as to how far Freud was re- 
garding the birth experience and castration literally and how 

25 Ibid., pp. 99-100. 
20 Ibid., p. 105. 
27 Ibid., p. 123. 

Freud's Evolving Theories of Anxiety 107 

far symbolically, we submit that the trend in Freud's reasoning 
cited above is toward an increasingly symbolic interpretation. 
To the present writer this is a positive trend. With respect to 
castration, there may legitimately be considerable question as to 
whether literal castration is a source of anxiety on any wide 
scale. We suggest that castration is a culturally determined sym- 
bol around which neurotic anxiety may cluster. 28 

With respect to the birth trauma, we regard Freud's increas- 
ingly symbolic interpretation also as a positive trend. It is still 
an open question in experimental and clinical psychology how 
far the severity of the birth experience is a literal source of later 
anxiety. 29 But even if the actual birth experience cannot be 
accepted as the source of anxiety in literal fashion, it would 
certainly be widely agreed that the infant's early relations with 
its mother, which so intimately condition both its biological and 
psychological development, are of the greatest significance for 
later anxiety patterns. Hence the present writer wishes to em- 
phasize that facet of Freud's thought which holds that anxiety 
has its source, as far as a primal source is reactivated in later 
neurotic anxiety, in the fear of premature loss of or separation 

28 Since castration and other aspects of the Oedipus situation are so im- 
portant in Freudian discussions of anxiety, another question may be raised. 
Does not neurotic anxiety arise around castration or the Oedipus situation 
only when there are prior disturbances in the relationship between parents 
and child? To illustrate in the case of Hans, are not the boy's jealousy and 
consequent hatred of his father themselves the product of anxiety? Apparently 
Hans had exclusive needs for his mother, needs which her loving the father 
would threaten. Are not such needs (which may fairly be termed excessive) 
in themselves an outgrowth of anxiety? It may well be true that the conflict 
and anxiety leading to the particular phobic construction which Freud analyzes 
are specifically related to ambivalence and hostility toward the father. But we 
submit that this hostility and ambivalence would not have developed except 
as Hans was already in a disturbed relationship with his mother and father 
which produced anxiety and led to exclusive demands for his mother. One can 
understandably hold that every child experiences clashes with its parents in its 
development of individuality and autonomy (vide Kierkegaard, Goldstein, 
etc.), but in the normal child (defined as the child in a relationship to its 
parents which is not characterized by pronounced anxiety) such clashes do 
not produce neurotic defenses and symptoms. It is here suggested, in fine, 
that Oedipus situations and castration fears do not emerge as problems i.e., 
do not become the foci of neurotic anxiety unless prior anxieties already 
exist in the family constellation. 

20 For discussion of the possible relation between Mrth and anxiety, sea 
Symonds, op. cit. 

108 Rollo May 

from the mother (or mother's love), and thence fear of the loss 
of subsequent values. Indeed, in the development and clinical 
application of Freudian theory, this interpretation is widely made, 
often in the form of the primal source of anxiety as being re- 
jection by the mother. 30 

Trends In Freud's Theories of Anxiety. Since we are con- 
cerned with the evolution of Freud's understanding of anxiety, 
we shall summarize certain directions in which his thinking was 
moving from his earlier to his later writings on anxiety, 31 First, 
in respect to the role of libido in anxiety. There is evidenced in 
Freud a trend toward removing the libido theory from the pri- 
mary position in his understanding of anxiety to a secondary 
position. Whereas the earlier theory of anxiety was almost 
wholly a description of what happened to libido (it was an "ex- 
clusively economic interpretation," Freud remarks), in his later 
writing he states that he is now not so much interested in the 
fate of the libido. His second theory still presupposes the libido 
concept, however: the energy which becomes anxiety is still 
libido withdrawn from the cathexis of repressed libido, the ego 
performs its repressive functions by means of "desexualized" 
libido, and the danger faced (to which anxiety is the reaction) 
is the "economic disturbance brought about by an increase 
in stimuli demanding some disposition be made of them." 32 

80 Cf. D. M- Levy: "[The] . . . most potent of all influences on social 
behavior is derived from the primary social experience with the mother/' 
Maternal over-protection, Psychiatry, 1, 561 ff. Grinker and Spiegel, whose 
viewpoint represents a development of Freudianism, point out in their study 
of anxiety in combat airmen that fear or anxiety will not develop unless the 
value or object that is threatened in combat is "something that is loved, 
highly prized, and held very dear." This may be a person (one's self or a 
loved one) or a value like an abstract idea. Men under stress (Philadelphia, 
1946), p. 120. We here suggest, in line with Freud's discussion above, that 
the primal form of the prized person is the mother and that the capacity to 
prize other persons and values is a development from this first prototype. 

81 This approach plotting the trends in Freud's thinking is fitting in the 
respect that Freud's thinking was germinal; it was changing and developing 
through most of his life. This makes dogmatism about his views of very 
dubious worth; but the changing nature of his views also makes for ambiguity 
in his writings. For example, at times Freud writes as though he had 
completely rejected his first theory, but at other times as though he believed 
it compatible, in a subsumed position, with the second theory. 

113 The problem of anxiety, p. 100. 

Freud's Evolving Theories of Anxiety 109 

Though Freud retained the libido concept through all his writ- 
ings, the trend is from a description of anxiety as an automatic 
conversion of libido to a description of the individual perceiving 
a danger and utilizing libido (energy) in coping with this dan- 
ger. This trend accounts partially for the fact that Freud's 
second theory presents a more adequate description of the 
mechanism of anxiety. But the present writer questions whether 
the secondary emphasis on the libido theory in Freud's later 
writings on anxiety does not confuse the problem by its emphasis 
on the individual as a carrier of instinctual or libidinal needs 
which must be gratified. 33 The view taken in the present study 
involves carrying the above trend in Freud's writing further in 
the respect that libido or energy factors are seen not as given 
economic quantities which must be expressed, but as functions 
of the values or goals the individual seeks to attain as he relates 
himself to his world. 

A second trend is seen in Freud's conception of how anxiety 
symptoms are formed. This trend is shown most vividly in the 
reversal of his early view that repression causes anxiety to the 
later view that anxiety causes repression. What this shift im- 
plies is that anxiety and its symptoms are seen not as merely 
the outcome of a simple intrapsychic process, but as arising out 
of the individual's endeavor to avoid danger situations in his 
world of relationships. 

Another trend, with implications similar to that above, is 
indicated in Freud's endeavor to overcome the dichotomy be- 
tween '"internal" and "external" factors in the occasions of anxi- 
ety. Whereas in the earlier theory neurotic anxiety was viewed 
as fear of one's own libidinous impulses, Freud later saw that 
the libidinous impulses are dangerous because the expression of 
them would involve an external danger. The external danger 
was of only minor importance in the first theory when anxiety 
could be viewed as an automatic intrapsychic transformation of 

aa The present writer agrees with those critics of the Freudian libido theory 
who hold that the theory is a carry-over from nineteenth century physio- 
chemical forms of thought. As an example of this physiochemical form of 
Freud's thinking, the translator of Freud's latest work makes an analog* 
between libido and an "electric charge." (An outline of psychoanalysis, trans 
J. Strachey [New York, 1949], p. 23.) 

110 Rollo May 

libido, but it became a pressing problem to him in the cases he 
was analyzing in his later periods when he saw that the internal 
danger danger from one's own impulses arose from the fact 
that the individual was struggling against an ''external and real 
danger-situation." This same trend toward seeing the anxious 
individual in a struggle with his environment (past or present) 
is indicated in the increasing prominence in Freud's later writ- 
ings of the phrase "danger situation" rather than merely "dan- 
ger." In his early writings we are informed that the symptom 
is developed to protect the individual from the demands of his 
own libido. But in developing his second theory he writes, "One 
might say, then, that symptoms are created in order to avoid 
the development of anxiety, but such a formulation does not 
go below the surface. It is more accurate to say that symptoms 
are created in order to avoid the danger situation of which anx- 
iety sounds the alarm." 34 Later in this same essay he notes, "We 
have become convinced also that instinctual demands often 
become an (internal) danger only because of the fact that their 
gratification would bring about an external danger because, 
therefore, this internal danger represents an external one." 35 
Therefore the symptom is not merely a protection against inner 
impulses: "For our point of view the relationships between 
anxiety and symptom prove to be less close than was supposed, 
the result of our having interposed between the two the factor 
of the danger situation." 36 It may seem at first blush that we 
are laboring a minor point in emphasizing this shift from "dan- 
ger" to "danger situation," but we believe that it is by no means 
an unimportant issue or a mere question of terminology. // 
involves the whole difference between seeing anxiety as a more 
or less exclusively intrapsychic process, on the one hand, and 

M The problem of anxiety, p, 86. This is the point the present writer 
makes with respect to the function of symptoms (see Chapters 3 and 8). 

83 Ibid., p. 152. 

80 Ibid., p. 112. In some interpretations of Freudian theory the first em- 
phasis of Freud is still made. Cf. Healy, Bronner, and Bowers: "Symptom- 
formation ... is now regarded as a defense against or a flight from anxiety" 
(The structure and meaning of psychoanalysis, P- 411). Cf. the view advanced 
in Chapter 3 above, that the symptom is a protection from the anxiety- 
creating situation. 

Freud's Evolving Theories of Anxiety 111 

the view that anxiety arises out of the individual's endeavor to 
relate himself to his environment, on the other. In this second 
view intrapsychic processes are significant because they are 
reactions to, and means of coping with, the difficulties in the 
interpersonal world. The trend in Freud is toward a more or- 
ganismic view organismic being here defined as connoting a 
view of the person in his constellation of relationships. But it is 
well known that Freud never developed this trend to its logical 
conclusions in terms of a consistent organismic and cultural 
viewpoint. We believe he was prevented from doing so by 
both his libido theory and his topological concept of person- 

A final trend in Freud's thinking on anxiety is shown in his 
increased emphasis on the topology of the psyche, arising out of 
his division of the personality into superego, ego, and id. This 
makes it possible for him to center more of his attention on anxi- 
ety as being a function of the way the individual, via the ego, 
perceives and interprets the danger situation. He remarks that 
the phrase he employed in his earlier theory, "anxiety of the 
id," is infelicitous since neither id nor superego can be said to 
perceive anxiety. While this trend, like the others mentioned 
above, makes Freud's later concepts of anxiety more adequate 
and more understandable psychologically, we raise the question 
as to whether this topology, when employed in any strict sense, 
does not confuse the problem of anxiety. For example, Freud 
speaks in his later writing of the ego "creating" repression after 
it perceives the danger situation. Does not repression involve 
unconscious ("id," in topological terms) functions as well? In- 
deed, any symptom formation which is effective must involve 
elements which are excluded from awareness, as Freud himself, 
despite his topology, would be the first to admit. We suggest 
that repressions and symptoms can best be viewed as the organ- 
ism's means of adjusting to a danger situation. While it is help- 
ful and necessary to see in given cases that certain elements 
are in awareness and others are excluded from awareness, the 
strict application of the topology makes not only for inconsist- 
encies in the theory but also shifts the attention away from the 

112 JRollo May 

real locus of the problem, namely the organism and its danger 
situation. 37 

Another application of his topology made by Freud which 
reveals this problem is seen in his discussion of helplessness in 
anxiety. He holds that in neurotic anxiety the ego is made help- 
less by its conflict with the id and superego. While the present 
writer would agree that in all neurotic anxiety the individual is 
engaged in intrapsychic conflict, a question arises as to whether 
this conflict, rather than being a lack of accord among ego, 
superego, and id, is not really a conflict between contradictory 
values and goals the individual seeks to attain in relating him- 
self to his interpersonal world. It is to be granted that certain 
poles of these conflicts will be in awareness and others will be 
repressed, and it is also to be granted that in neurotic anxiety 
previous conflicts in the individual's life-history are reactivated. 
But to our mind both the present and the previous conflicts are to 
be seen not as between different "parts" of the personality but 
as between mutually exclusive goals made necessary by the indi- 
vidual's endeavor to adapt to a danger situation. 

It is unnecessary to labor the point of Freud's far-reaching 
contributions to the understanding of anxiety. For the purposes 
of the present discussion, these contributions consist chiefly in 
the many-sided illumination he shed upon symptom formation, 
in his emergent concern with the primal source of anxiety in the 
separation of the child from its mother, and in his emphasis on 
the subjective and intrapsychic aspects of neurotic anxiety. 

37 The confusing implications of Freud's topology are seen in his tendencies 
to think of the ego and the id as literally geographical regions in the 
personality. In his last writing, Outline of psychoanalysis (New York, 1949), 
he refers to his "topographical" viewpoint, speaks of the ego as "developed 
out of the cortical layer of the id" (p. 110), and uses such phrases as 
"mental regions" (p. 15) and "the outermost cortex of the ego" (p. 41). 
The present author believes that the equating of neurological areas with 
psychological functions can be done only very loosely; the two are never 
literally equivalent. The tendency to locate the "ego function" geographically 
reminds the present author of the endeavors of Descartes and others of the 
seventeenth century to locate man's "soul" in the pineal gland at the base of 
the brain I Again, we can do no better than to quote Freud himself; the 
essential thing is to grasp psychological tacts psychologically. 



Psychiatric Aspects of Anxiety 4 

The most unpleasant and at the same time the most universal 
experience, except loneliness, is anxiety. We observe both healthy 
and mentally disturbed people doing everything possible to ward 
off anxiety or to keep it from awareness. 

Mentally disturbed people try to dispel anxiety by developing 
mental symptoms. In fact as first stated by Freud, mental symp- 
toms are at the same time both the expression of unbearable 
anxiety and the means of warding it off. [9] In other words mental 
symptoms and mental illness can be understood simultaneously 
as the outcome of anxiety and as a defense against it. Mental 
illness can be understood as a person's response to unbearable 
anxiety. Therefore, anxiety constitutes an essential problem in 

This holds true even though we consider anxiety to be an 
experience by no means limited to the mentally disturbed. As 
initially stated, we realize that anxiety in its milder forms is a 
universal human phenomenon. Philosophers and psychologists 
have known and advanced this knowledge for a long time. In 
their eagerness to be great helpers and healers, psychiatrists have 
been and are still partly inclined to overlook the difference be- 
tween what may be called the normal anxieties of the emotion- 
ally healthy and the neurotic or psychotic excess anxiety which 
should be subject to psychotherapy. For a long time, psychia- 
trists and psychotherapists have also overlooked the fact that 

* This paper is part of the author's forthcoming publication on "The 
Philosophy of Psychotherapy" to be published by Grune & Stratton with 
whose permission it is preprinted here. 


H4 Frieda Fromm-Reichmann 

anxiety not only has negative, disintegrative facets but also some 
positive, constructive ones. As we set out to clarify the philosophy 
of psychotherapy regarding neurotic and psychotic anxieties, we 
must keep these two aspects of anxiety clearly in mind. 

Anxiety, as we know, shows in a great variety of ways. Sub- 
jectively it may be experienced as a most unpleasant interference 
with thinking processes and concentration, as a diffuse, vague 
and frequently objectless feeling of apprehension or as a dis- 
comforting feeling of uncertainty and helplessness. As it arises 
in its milder forms, it may show objectively by a shift in tone of 
voice, and/or tempo of speech, by a change of posture, gesture 
and motion, also by the anxious person's intellectual or emotional 
preoccupation or blocking of communication. In people who are 
even more anxious, anxiety manifests itself psychologically in 
more or less marked degrees of paralysis of thought and action. 
The well known physical manifestations that may be caused by 
anxiety are symptoms of a hyperactive sympathetic system such 
as change of turgor, perspiration, tremor, sensation of a lump in 
the throat, sinking abdominal sensations, diarrhea, vomiting, 
changes in pupillar reactions, in heart beat, pulse rate and 
respiration. If anxiety-states become so severe that the anxiety- 
stricken person cannot handle them, mental symptoms and men- 
tal illness are the final outcome. 

In the rare cases when anxiety is so severe that all these ex- 
pressions of it and all defenses against it fail to bring relief, 
panic or terror may be the outcome. Panic, as defined by H. S. 
Sullivan, is an extreme concentration of attention and the 
direction of all available energy toward only one goal escape, 
swift flight from internal dangers which are poorly envisaged, 
and in the case of failure to escape, by a temporary disintegra- 
tion of personality with random destructive tendencies against 
oneself and others. Also according to Sullivan, terror is anxiety 
of a cosmic quality in the face of a primitively conceived threat 
of danger. The terror-stricken person feels himself to be alone 
among deadly menaces, more or less blindly fighting for his 
survival against dreadful odds. [29, 30] Fortunately, terror and 
panic are short lived. The organism produces quick defenses 
against the devastating influence which panic or terror of pro- 

Psychiatric Aspects of Anxiety 115 

longed duration would exert. John Vassos' empathic pictorial 
work on Phobia (which, incidentally, is dedicated to H. S. Sulli- 
van) should be mentioned here as an impressive contribution to 
the understanding of terror and panic. [34] 

In contrast to these various forms of anxiety, fear is a useful, 
rational kind of fright elicited by realistic external dangers. To 
be described presently, and in contrast to fear, are the dangers 
from within, which elicit anxiety. 

What is anxiety in terms of its conceptions in dynamic psychia- 
try? Freud says in "The Problems of Anxiety," that anxiety is 
felt by a person at the realization of formerly repressed inaccept- 
able drives and wishes; his anxiety is with regard to loss of love 
and punishment, i.e. along the lines of Freud's libidinal con- 
cepts, castration-fear. [9] 

We need not go into the discussion of Freud's older explana- 
tion of anxiety as the result of repressed sexual desires, [5] be- 
cause he rejected it himself in "The Problems of Anxiety." 

Sullivan shares with Freud the concept of the anxiety-arousing 
power of inacceptable thoughts, feelings, drives, wishes and ac- 
tions. But in the framework of his interpersonal conceptions he 
sees these forbidden inner experiences as interpersonal ones, not 
as instinctual drives per se; also the expected punishment is 
not seen as castration-fear. Rather, it is experienced by the 
anxious person as the anticipated disapproval, i.e. loss of love, 
from the significant people of his early life, from whom he has 
originally learned to discriminate between acceptable and in- 
acceptable drives, attitudes, and actions. Later on this fear of 
disapproval may be transferred from the original significant 
people who trained and educated the anxious person to their 
emotional successors. Guilt feelings, separately described by 
other authors, are obviously inherent in Sullivan's conception of 
anxiety. [29, 30, 31, 32] 

This disapproval by the significant people of one's early life 
to which both Freud and Sullivan refer, is vital enough to 
account for severe anxieties because the infant and the young 
child are dependent upon the early important people for ful- 
fillment of their basic needs. The infant's survival depends upon 
the loving care he is given by the mothering ones of his infancy. 

116 Frieda Fromm-Reichmann 

Nearly all psychological concepts of anxiety have, in common 
with Freud and Sullivan, this one basic conception: that anxiety 
is tied up with the inner danger of inacceptable thoughts, feel- 
ings, wishes or drives which elicit the expectation of loss of 
love and approval or of punishment. No matter how much these 
conceptions may differ in their explanatory details and regard- 
less of whether or not this aspect of anxiety is explicitly men- 
tioned in these conceptions, it is a viewpoint now commonly 

Let me quote a few outstanding representatives of various 
psychiatric schools of thinking. Rank speaks of separation anxiety 
which people first experience at birth and subsequently through- 
out their lives, present at all phases of personality-development 
and individuation, from weaning, i.e. separation from mother's 
breast, to separation from one's fellowmen, by death. [26] 

Adler uses his concept of inferiority feelings where other au- 
thors speak of anxiety. He asserts that these inferiority feelings 
can be overcome by people only in affirmation and strengthening 
of their social bonds with society, by enforcing the sense of be- 
longing to a social group. [1] 

Homey emphasizes the central significance of the interrelated- 
ness between anxiety and hostility anticipated in others and 
sensed in the anxious person himself; here again anxiety is seen 
as being tied up with the fear of disruption of one's interpersonal 
relationships. [19] 

Fromm, Berdyaev, Halmos, Kardiner, Riesman and other so- 
cial psychologists find the source of man's anxiety in his psy- 
chological isolation, his alienation from his own self and from 
his fellowmen. They consider this the common fate of man in 
modern society, irrespective of his state of emotional health. 
[3, 10, 18, 22, 27] A poetic version of this viewpoint may be 
found in Auden's "Age of Anxiety." [2] 

Goldstein's conception of anxiety as being the subjective ex- 
perience of a danger to existence in the face of failure may also 
imply anxiety regarding loss of love and recognition by those 
who recognize the anxious person's failure. [15, 16] 

The same holds true for Rollo May's definition of anxiety as 
"the apprehension set off by a threat to some value which the 

Psychiatric Aspects of Anxiety 117 

individual holds essential to his existence as a personality." 1 [23] 
Again this concept implies the fear of losing interpersonal recog- 
nition or acceptance since this could be tied up with the loss of 
essential values in the life of the individual. I will return later 
to the discussion of some other aspects of the conceptions 
of these authors. At this point I am primarily interested in 
demonstrating the ubiquitously implied acceptance of the con- 
cept that anxiety is connected with anticipated fear of punish- 
ment and disapproval, withdrawal of love, disruption of inter- 
personal relationships, isolation or separation. 

This conception of anxiety as the expression of the anticipated 
loss of love and approval, or separation, social isolation, or 
disruption of one's interpersonal relationships implies its close 
psychological affinity to loneliness. In fact, I believe that many 
of the emotional states to which psychiatrists refer as anxiety 
actually are states of loneliness or fear of loneliness. 2 

Now I wish to return to the discussion of the psychodynarnics 
of anxiety. According to Sullivan, the infant and child's need 
for love and approval and the anxiety connected with rejection 
and disapproval are utilized by the significant adults in handling 
the necessary early processes which are designed to train the 
infant and child for his interpersonal adjustment, his socialization 
and acculturalization. Out of this educative process evolves the 
part of human personality which Sullivan has called "self- 
system." This self-system operates in the service of people to 
obtain satisfaction without incurring too much anxiety. In the 
process of establishing the self-system certain infantile trends 
must be barred from awareness, dissociated. If they break into 
awareness anxiety will reappear because the structure of the 
self-system, the nature of which tends toward rigid maintenance 
of its protective status quo, is threatened with change. This 
defensiveness against change makes for the danger of personal 

1 Rollo May's book is most stimulating as a monograph in its own right, 
but also as an excellent survey of the theories of anxiety. The proceedings of 
the 39th Annual Meeting of the American Psychopathological Association, 
1949; Grune & Stratton, 1950; edited by Hoch & Zubin ought to be quoted 
as another useful compendium on the subject 

a l will elaborate on this topic in my forthcoming publication "Philosoph] 
of Psychotherapy." (See footnote on page 113.) 

118 Frieda Fromm-Reichmann 

rigidity, which in turn increases the potentialities for further 
anxiety. [29, 30] This anxiety connected with change is eternally 
in conflict with man's general innate tendencies toward growth, 
toward the change which is implied and particularly with the 
innate motivation of mental patients toward health. One of the 
great responsibilities of the psychotherapist is to help patients 
face and overcome this conflict constructively. [12] 

I would like to offer an additional explanatory concept about 
the factors which make people expect punishment, disapproval 
and loss of love and which has helped me to understand better 
than I did previously the psychological significance of the anxie- 
ties of people in general and of mental patients in particular. 
Let us ask again: what do people disapprove of most gravely 
in themselves, i.e. which trends in themselves do they expect 
will bring the most severe disapproval on the part of the signifi- 
cant people in their lives? Are there other significant causes for 
the anxiety-arousing anticipation of disapproval and isolation in 
addition to those we have quoted? Let me offer the following 
hypothetical answer. 

It is a well-known psychological fact that a person will mis- 
value the significant people of his childhood to the extent to 
which his early interpersonal tie-ups remain unresolved. If these 
early interpersonal patterns stand uncorrected, people will distort 
the image of various people whom they meet in the course of 
their lives. They may or may not dimly sense that they do so, 
but they will not recognize the interpersonal misconceptions of 
their early childhood as the root of the distortions of their inter- 
personal relationships. 

An adult person who finds himself compulsively appraising 
other people inadequately, incorrectly evaluating their reactions, 
acting upon and responding to them in line with these mis- 
conceptions in terms of early patterns of living, may many times 
become semi-aware of his erroneous judgment and behavior. 
However, he may feel inadequate and helpless in his dim wish or 
attempt to change and correct his judgment and his emotional 
reactions because he is unaware of their unconscious roots, the 
unmodified fixations to the patterns of interpersonal relationships 
which he acquired in his early years. This helplessness in the 

Psychiatric Aspects of Anxiety 119 

face of the need to change anachronistic, distorted patterns of 
interpersonal relationships meets with self-disapproval and dis- 
content; it interferes with the innate tendency to self-realization; 
it produces deep insecurity in people and meets with the antici- 
pated disapproval of others; thus, it is the expression of anxiety 
and it produces further anxiety. Goldstein could demonstrate 
this type of anxiety in his brain-injured patients. When they 
were faced with a simple task which they could not accomplish 
for reasons unknown to them, stemming from their neurological 
brain injury, they became the prey of an abject feeling of help- 
lessness, of nothingness, or a "catastrophic reaction," as Gold- 
stein has called it. [15, 16] 

The hypothesis is offered that mentally disturbed people 
frequently develop a "catastrophic reaction," anxiety, in response 
to thek compulsively determined inability to change their dis- 
torted, immature patterns of interpersonal relationships. This 
task may be set by the demands of their own conscience or by 
the actual or assumed demands of their elders or friends. This 
helplessness in the presence of the need to envision and to relate 
oneself adequately to other people, i.e. in accordance with one's 
chronological age and with one's psychological reality without 
full awareness of its causes, is most frightening, for more than 
one reason. It elicits a general feeling of helplessness and 
paralysis. It means that the person concerned is living in an 
unreal psychological world and that he feels he is in danger of 
pulling the people of his environment actually or in fantasy into 
the same threatening abyss of unreality. Being unable to success- 
fully avail himself of the possibility of using new means of eval- 
uating people and of relating himself meaningfully to them 
amounts to being blocked in the utilization of learning processes 
which serve growth and change. This absence of growth and 
change is tantamount to psychological stagnation and emotional 
sterility, i.e. psychological death. [14] In other words, the repeti- 
tion-compulsion to follow early patterns of interpersonal evalu- 
ation and relatedness and the inability to learn to replace them 
by new patterns, deprives a person of the freedom to live and 
move about in the world of psychological reality which should 
he his, deprives him of the freedom for self-realization and 

120 Frieda Fromm-Reichmann 

conveys feelings of stagnation and sterility, hence the fear of 
psychological death, of Tillich's "not being," or Goldstein's 
"nothingness." [15, 16, 33] 

By "self-realization" I mean (to repeat a definition I have 
previously given [12]) a person's use of his talents, skills and 
powers to his satisfaction within the realm of his own freely 
established realistic set of values. Furthermore, I mean the un- 
inhibited ability of patients to reach out for and to find fulfill- 
ment of their needs for satisfaction and security, as far as it 
can be obtained, without interfering with the laws and customs 
which protect the needs of their fellowmen. Goldstein's "self- 
actualization," Fromm's "productive character," Whitehom's "ma- 
ture personality" and the "self-affirmation" of the existentialists 
axe formulations of the same concept. [10, 15, 35] In the clas- 
sical psychoanalytic literature insufficient attention has been 
given so far to the concept of self-realization as a great source, 
if not the greatest source, of human fulfillment. Freud has re- 
ferred to it in his teachings on secondary narcissism and ego- 
ideal formation, but he has dealt more with the investigation 
of the origin of the phenomenon than with the elaboration on 
the psychological significance of the end-product, mature self- 
realization. [7, 8] 

The lack of freedom for self-realization and the feeling of 
stagnation and "nothingness" that goes with it, this sense of 
psychological death, seems to me to be at the root of many 
people's anxiety. To repeat, they cling to infantile interpersonal 
patterns, and as a result feel helpless without really knowing why. 
The> are unable to grow emotionally, to develop or change. They 
are not able to think, feel and act according to their chronological 
age. They live anachronously in a deadening emotional rut where 
they compulsively continue to distort their interpersonal images 
of new people whom they meet, and to misvalue the interpersonal 
reactions and behavior of these people along the line of the 
conceptions gained in their unresolved interpersonal childhood 

Example: A young woman, Anna, went to see her older friend 
and confidant, Mr. N., whom she trusted unequivocally. Anna 
asked him to contact certain significant people in her family 

Psychiatric Aspects of Anxiety 12 u 

and explain to them some facts about her life which she fek 
would be of immeasurable value for them and for her in the 
general family picture. Mr. N. assured Anna of his complete 
willingness to do this and when Anna left him she was confident 
that Mr. N. would take care of the situation with understanding 
and skill. For valid rational reasons, which are beside the point 
of our discussion, Mr. N. decided later not to meet the members 
of the family and have a talk with them along the lines sug- 
gested by Anna. He did not have an opportunity to discuss this 
with her. When Anna found out about it a few days later, she 
felt deep resentment against Mr. N. and developed a spell of 
severe anxiety. Why? She felt that her friend had not accepted 
here appraisal of the total situation nor given it serious considera- 
tion. She also felt he had treated her the same way her parents 
had always done; to judge everything the little girl suggested or 
offered for consideration as not being worthy of serious thought 
on their part, "little girls are too emotional." Anna realized 
though, that her resentment against Mr. N., whom she felt had 
betrayed her and had not taken her suggestion seriously was, 
somehow, unfounded and sensed dimly that he might well have 
fallen down on their agreement for valid, rational reasons. How- 
ever, she felt completely incapable of overcoming her resent- 
ment and her severe spell of anxiety lasted for hours. The semi- 
awareness she had about the irrationality of her anxiety and 
resentment did not help any until, by psychoanalytic investiga- 
tion, she finally discovered the reasons, of which she had been 
unaware. Then she recognized that her resentment was due to a 
distortion of the present situation between her and Mr. N., in 
the light of the unresolved interpersonal pattern of living with 
the parents of her childhood, ("little girl" "too emotional" 
judgment and suggestions deserve no consideration.) 

Jurgen Ruesch's interesting new concept of anxiety which he 
gained from observation and investigation of people under stress, 
fits into this context. He says that anxiety arises as a result of 
overstimulation which cannot be discharged by action. [28] The 
anxious people who have been described are barred from dis- 
charging tension by action, from converting anxiety into euphoria 
because they live in a state of "not-being," or "nothingness." 

122 Frieda Fromm-Reichmann 

The anxiety producing aspects of people's unresolved early 
tie-ups and involvements, of which they are only partially aware, 
receive additional reinforcement because so many of these anxiety 
producing aspects are experienced as forbidden and elicit anxiety 
connected guilt feelings. Love for the parent of the opposite sex 
and competitive hatred of the parent of the same sex should 
be mentioned here as the most outstanding example of such 
anxiety and guilt evoking psychological constellations. 

The resolution of such early tie-ups with the parents of one's 
childhood, which I have implicitly recommended as a preventive 
against anxiety, should not be confused with manifestations of 
a child's outwardly breaking away from his parents. Children 
who succeed in breaking away from their parents early may ex- 
perience increased anxiety, since this emerging independence of 
a child meets with a sense of loss on the part of the parents, 
hence frequently with their disapproval of the child. 

The psychology of masturbation is illustrative of our last state- 
ment. There has been much discussion about the following 
question: Why are there so many children who never have been 
exposed to any warning against masturbation and many adults 
who intellectually do not consider masturbation forbidden or 
dangerous and yet there are practically no people who masturbate 
without feeling guilty and anxious about it? How can we explain 
this fact? I believe that guilt eliciting masturbatory fantasies 
are only partly, if at all, responsible. Many cases of masturbatory 
feelings of guilt and anxiety seem to be connected with the 
fact that masturbation represents a child's first act of independ- 
ence from his parents or others who have raised and mothered 
him. He needs his elders for the fulfillment of all his basic 
needs; getting food and fresh air and for being kept clean and 
getting fresh clothes and bedding. Masturbation is the only 
pleasure he can obtain without their help. As such, it con- 
stitutes an act of breaking away from one's parents, for which 
the child feels guilty and anxious regardless of the permissive 
or non-permissive attitude of the elders towards the act of mas- 
turbation per se. 

It has been stated that practically no one in this culture gets 
ideally rid of his early interpersonal tie-ups and the resulting 

Psychiatric Aspects of Anxiety 123 

interpersonal problems. In other words, almost no one is entirely 
prepared to face the anxiety provoking dangers of his present life, 
fully undistorted by interpersonal entanglements with the "ghosts 
of his past" and with full command of his adult emotional equip- 
ment. As Grinker puts it, in his research on "Anxiety and 
Psychosomatic Transactions": "The stimulus" (which arouses 
anxiety) "must be perceived in the light of inner expectation 
originating at an early and particularly helpless time in the 
organism's history, to be dangerous to its protective attachments 
and hence to his existence," i.e. to have the power to produce 
anxiety. [17] 

People's fear of nothingness, of helplessness in the face of 
"psychological death," as it has been postulated here as being a 
central cause of human anxiety, has a factual correlate in the 
practically universal experience of anxiety with regard to actual 
death as a general phenomenon. The fact that life ends with 
death remains to most people an inconceivable experience of 
ultimate psychobiological separation. To others, the fact that 
time and cause of death are unpredictable conveys a painful 
sense of ultimate powerlessness. This fear and anxiety of death 
gains reinforcement from the fact that it does not stand only 
for itself but is also an expression and a symbol of other unknown 
and unpredictable forces which govern human existence. "It is 
this fact of our being in a finite and limited time, the awareness 
of (our) mortality and uncertainty of the future," which renders 
us helpless and anxious, as Podolsky puts it. [25] That is, people 
seem to feel the same helplessness and anxiety in the face of the 
phenomenon of actual death as they do in the face of the above 
defined personal experience of "psychological death." 

There are various ways in which people may try to counteract 
the anxiety and the narcissistic hurt inflicted on them when they 
are faced with the necessity of accepting the reality of death. 
The powerfulness of these defenses is a measuring rod for the 
intenseness of the anxiety which people try to fight off with 

The religious concept of the Hereafter is the greatest attempt 
to counteract the inconceivable separation experience which is 

124 Frieda Fromm-Reichmann 

The well known phenomenon of people's guilt feelings after 
the death of a close person is, in my judgment, caused not only 
by the ambivalence toward the deceased, but also and more so 
by people's anxiety about the uncertainty and unpredictability 
which go with the very nature of life and death. Feeling guilty 
about someone's death means assuming part of the responsibility. 
If we are partly responsible, the inconceivable, unpredictable 
character of death is mitigated; it is put into some more accept- 
able context with that which man can influence or fails to 
influence by virtue of his own skills and powers. 

A more pathological way of counteracting the anxiety con- 
nected with death is used by certain emotionally disturbed people 
v ,o whom its uncertainty is so anxiety provoking and unbearable 
that they evade its acceptance, or at least find satisfaction in 
fantasying that they can evade it, by committing suicide. To 
these people, suicide means doing away with the unpredictability 
of the end of their lives. As if, by their own determination, they 
take the power of decision out of the hands of the Lord, of fate 
or of nature, as their conceptions may be. [36, 37] 

These examples show that the defenses people feel the need 
to erect against the anxieties connected with actual death are 
just as powerful as the symptoms with which mental patients 
try to protect themselves against the anxiety connected with 
"psychological death." 

Some psychoanalysts may ask at this point, how this concept 
of anxiety in the face of psychological and factual death ties up 
with the classical psychoanalytic concept of the death instinct? 
Freud postulated, in his metapsychological treatise, "Beyond the 
Pleasure Principle," that man is bora with aggressive and de- 
structive impulses against himself and others. [6] Man's death 
instinct, according to Freud, operates throughout his life as the 
expression of these self-destructive tendencies against himself. 

Other psychoanalysts in writing about this topic have tried to 
prove the existence of the death instinct in terms of what, in 
their judgment, are self-destructive operations which we can ob- 
serve in most people, such as their neglect in seeking medical 
help for obviously harmful pathological processes. [24] I believe 
this seemingly self -destructive behavior can be better understood 

Psychiatric Aspects of Anxiety 125 

as the outcome of man's fear of death than as the response to 
his death-instinct. He does not consult the doctor lest he be 
faced with a fatal prognosis of his ailment which might increase 
his fear of death. 

I find myself in agreement with Sullivan, Fromm and several 
other dynamic psychiatrists and psychoanalysts who do not rind 
any evidence of primary in-born hostile and destructive tend- 
encies in the human mind, but who deduct from their psychiatric 
experience that the rise of hostile and destructive tendencies is 
the outcome of and the response to the adversities of people's 
interpersonal experiences throughout their lives. Consequently, 
these authors do not see any evidence of the original existence 
of self-destructive tendencies, of a death instinct, as a given 
ubiquitous phenomenon. [11, 29] 

Irrespective of the controversial issue of Freud's concept of 
the death instinct, we agree with his conceptions that man must 
have some kind of an inner awareness, or sense some kind of 
reflection of the changes of the organism which take place daily 
and hourly in the direction of its final dissolution and death. I 
believe that man's inner awareness of these changes of the organ- 
ism on its gradual way from birth to death contribute to his fear 
of death and to his anxiety of the unknown which is connected 
with the facts of death, rather than their being an expression of 
his death instinct. 

So much about the anxiety connected with what I have called 
"psychological death" and about the anxiety connected with the 
psychological facts of actual death as a general human phe- 
nomenon. Our data corroborates our introductory statement about 
there being almost no one permanently free from anxiety. Yet, 
healthy people learn to handle their anxieties without converting 
them into symptoms. They may even be able to turn them into 
assets, a topic on which I have elaborated elsewhere. [13] 

In the same context, let me also quote Homey who states 
that both types of anxiety, that of the mentally healthy and of 
mentally disturbed people, render them helpless and this help- 
lessness in turn produces more anxiety, "secondary" anxiety. 
However, Horney says that anxiety in the face of actual death 
and of the other powers of nature must be accepted and does 

126 Frieda Fromm-Reichmann 

not call for the development of the defense mechanism and of 
the hostility and destructiveness which people develop in re- 
sponse to other neurotic or psychotic forms of helplessness 
and anxiety. The contrary may even be true. [19] Grinker cor- 
roborates this viewpoint when he states: "If anxiety is mild, it 
is stimulating and facilitates increased and efficient action or 
thought." [16] 

As Fronim pointed out, anxiety in the face of the overwhelm- 
ing and unpredictable powers of nature, which is the common 
fate of all of us, may be used as a motivation for increasing the 
common bonds between human beings. 

Freud, and also Adler, have emphasized the viewpoint that 
human efforts to allay anxiety have led to the development of 
civilization. Jung and Adler also emphasize the positive powers 
of constructive defense which may be aroused in people for the 
sake of counteracting their anxiety. [1, 6, 21] 

The existentialists, including one of the outstanding psychia- 
trists among them, Binswanger, stress the constructive aspects 
of anxiety even more. They consider it the equivalent of the 
tension aroused in a person who is able to face the universe and 
the task which is set to men, to conquer the emanations of the 
universe by action. [4, 35] 

States of anxiety which are severe enough to call for expression 
and defence by mental symptoms, i.e. the states of excess anxiety 
of which neurotic and psychotic patients suffer, are, of course, 
not constructive except for the times when they are reduced to 
milder degrees. 

It should not be overlooked though, that the anxiety of mental 
patients under treatment can be psychotherapeutically utilized 
as a signpost indicating underlying conflicts and as a challenge 
to solve them. This holds true for neurotic patients as well as for 
psychotics. In fact, it may be generally stated that mild degrees 
of anxiety, discomforting as they may be, can be useful danger 
signals to mentally healthy and to mentally disturbed people. 
[9, 35] 

Some readers may be surprised that I suggest psychothera- 
peutic intervention not only with excess anxiety in neurotic 
patients but also in psychotics. Clinical experience during the 

Psychiatric Aspects of Anxiety 127 

last 25 or 30 years has taught dynamic psychiatrists that both 
neurotic and psychotic excess anxieties can be successfully treated 
with psychoanalysis or psychoanalytically oriented dynamic psy- 
chotherapy. Time and space permitting, I could corroborate this 
statement with many examples from my own experience and that 
of many other psychiatrists who work with both types of 
patients. We cannot enter into a discussion of the psychothera- 
peutic techniques which dynamic psychiatrists use in the treat- 
ment of anxiety. If our initial statement is correct, that anxiety 
is at the root of every mental disturbance, then it is also true 
that any discussion of psychotherapeutic methods in the treat- 
ment of neurotic and psychotic anxieties would amount to writ- 
ing a paper on psychotherapy at large. 

I will restrict myself, therefore, to the following brief com- 
ments: We have seen that people who suffer from anxiety are 
at best only semi-aware of its causes. Therefore, the focal point 
of all psychotherapeutic guidance or treatment of anxiety states 
is to help the anxious person uncover and understand the un- 
conscious reasons for his helplessness and anxiety. Beyond that 
it follows from our distinction between mild degrees of anxiety 
and their predominantly constructive aspects and severe degrees 
of anxiety with their predominantly disjunctive aspects, that the 
specific psychotherapeutic usefulness of dynamic psychiatrists in 
helping anxious patients, encompasses three central therapeutic 
tasks. One therapeutic goal should be to guide people in under- 
standing and then accepting and learning to live with and to 
utilize mild degrees of anxiety. In the case of more intensive 
states of anxiety, the psychotherapeutic goal should be to help 
people (patients), for preventive reasons, uncover, resolve and 
integrate the causes of these anxieties, lest they lead up to an 
expression by mental symptoms which simultaneously are used 
as defenses against the awareness of these anxiety states. In 
cases where a person's anxiety is severe enough to express itself 
in mental symptomatology and mental illness, the psychothera- 
peutic goal should be to help the mental patient with the 
methods of intensive psychoanalytically oriented dynamic psy- 
chotherapy to gain insight into the emotional roots of his anxiety 
and of his symptomatology, to understand the psychodynamic 

128 Frieda Fromm-Reichmann 

linkage between anxiety and symptomatology and to face, work 
through and eventually vanquish his excess anxiety. Caution is 
indicated regarding the timing and the dosage of therapeutic 
intervention and enlightenment, lest a patient be made to face 
more dynamic insight into his anxiety and greater amounts of 
open anxiety than he can accept at a given time. 

The discussion of the psychotherapeutic aspects of anxiety 
would be more than incomplete if its focus were not extended to 
the problem of anxiety in psychotherapists. If it is true that 
there is practically no one who is permanently free from anxiety, 
and/or none in whom anxiety cannot be temporarily aroused by 
aU kinds of adverse experiences, then this fact, of course, holds 
true for psychotherapists as well. In their case, we are especially 
interested in the feelings of anxiety which may, sometimes, be 
brought forth in them by their patients. 

A psychotherapist who does not know and integrate this fact, 
who dreams about his non-vulnerability to anxiety, be it aroused 
in his exchange with patients or other persons, a psychotherapist 
who dreams about "complete emotional security" as an unreal 
goal for his own inner life, cannot guide his mental patients to 
wholesome, constructive testing and evaluation of their anxieties 
and to a constructive adjustment to the facts and data of their 
internal and external reality. Awareness of his anxiety, not 
freedom from or denial of it and sufficient emotional security 
to accept and handle it is the philosophical attitude toward 
anxiety to be expected of a competent, mature psychiatrist. In- 
cidentally, there was a time when it was my belief that a well- 
analyzed psychotherapist should be altogether free from anxiety 
and emotional insecurity. As a matter of fact, my printed elabora- 
tions on such utopianism can still be read in rny book "Principles 
of Intensive Psychotherapy." [12] To repeat, I now believe, or 
better still, I know that a state of mind permanently free of 
anxiety is utopianism for the psychotherapist by the same token 
that it is for anyone else. 

There are many pitfalls in the psychiatrist's interaction with 
patients and for that matter, in the interaction of other people 
engaged in responsible interpersonal guidance of their fellowmen, 

Psychiatric Aspects of Anxiety 129 

if they are not willing and able to accept the awareness of a 
certain amount of anxiety and emotional insecurity within them- 
selves. Conversely, there is a great and constructive source of 
help for psychotherapeutic effectiveness in the psychiatrist's 
awareness and creative acceptance of his own anxieties whenever 
they are elicited. The therapist's anxiety is frequently indicative 
of emotional experiences in patients which arouse anxiety in 
him. Thus the psychiatrists* anxiety becomes an important di- 
vining rod for the discovery of many emotional experiences of 
patients, which might otherwise remain undiscovered and hidden 
for a long time, as in the case of a psychiatrist who would not 
feel free to use his own anxiety as a guide to anxiety provoking 
emotional experiences in patients. 

A therapist's denial of his own anxieties may cause him to 
overlook the possibility of his contaminating patients with them, 
a danger which in extreme cases may only be eliminated or 
corrected by its free discussion between patient and doctor, 
or for that matter between any other two participants in such 
an experience. Furthermore, in a therapist, denial of anxiety 
may arouse all kinds of defenses in him which will interfere with 
his therapeutic usefulness. That is, he may feel he must reassure 
himself against the onslaught of anxiety aroused in him by a 
patient by giving the patient uncalled for reassurance. Or, he may 
try to propitiate his patient by assuming, for his own defense, 
all types of roles in the therapeutic process (e.g. the "better" 
parent, the "great" doctor), instead of operating for the benefit 
of the patient. A psychotherapist (like any other person partici- 
pating in an interpersonal exchange) is only able to listen with 
unimpaired alertness, perceptiveness and creative responsiveness, 
i.e. he is only able to operate effectively, to the extent to which 
there is no interference from defense against his own recognized 

At present, I am engaged along with several colleagues at 
Chestnut Lodge, in a research project on the intuitive elements 
in the doctor's therapeutic approach to schizophrenics. There, 
we have ample opportunity to observe clearly the marked inter- 
ference with free utilization of intuitive abilities stemming from 

130 Frieda Fromm-Reichmann 

our anxiety, with regard to our patients, as well as with regard 
to our colleagues in the research group, as long as this anxiety 
operates unrecognized. 

There is one more important psychotherapeutic issue which 
is in danger of being obscured in cases of psychiatrists' un- 
recognized anxiety. A therapist who fails to recognize and to 
accept his own anxieties will also fail to differentiate correctly 
between the type and the degree of pathological excess anxiety 
in mental patients, which is subject to treatment, and the general 
human experience of non-pathological anxieties which everyone 
may suffer and utilize as part of the business of living. To put 
the same thought differently: psychotherapists are not Gods who 
can change man's fate, which includes everyone, at times, being 
submitted to states of anxiety. In their role as individual psy- 
chiatrists, they cannot alter, except very slowly and impercep- 
tively, the structure of a culture and a society which may elicit 
anxiety in its members. However, psychiatrists can and should 
be useful in man's fight against his individual, irrational excess 
anxieties, and in encouraging people to accept and integrate 
constructively and without psychotherapeutic help the milder 
degrees of anxiety which we may loosely call "normal" anxiety. 


Anxiety is seen as a universal emotional experience. The 
reader's attention is directed toward the realization that milder 
degrees of anxiety have both disintegrative and constructive as- 

Severe degrees of anxiety are described as leading up to the 
development of mental illness, mental symptoms being simul- 
taneously an expression of severe anxiety and a defense against 

The existing genetic theories on anxiety are briefly reviewed 
and the fear of anticipated disapproval, withdrawal of love, 
and separation from significant environmental figures is discussed 
as a factor, about the genetic significance of which most authors 

Psychiatric Aspects of Anxiety 131 

The hypothesis is offered that the genesis of anxiety may also 
be understood as a result of unresolved early emotional tie-ups 
with significant persons of one's early environment. People are 
stuck with these early interpersonal patterns and with their early 
interpersonal evaluation which remain uncorrected. These fixa- 
tions, of which people are only partially aware, if at all, render 
them psychologically helpless, interfere with their ability to 
change, with their growth, maturation and self-realization, and 
with their correct evaluation of their own and other peoples' 
interpersonal interactions. The result is "psychological death," 
which elicits anxiety. This anxiety is compared to the anxiety 
which is called forth in most people by factual death and similar 
phenomena which are beyond human control and, therefore, 
arouse helplessness and anxiety. 

A distinction is proposed between psychotherapeutic guidance 
in cases of milder forms of anxiety and psychotherapeutic inter- 
vention in cases of severe forms of anxiety, which lead to neu- 
rotic or psychotic symptom-formation and mental illness. 

Finally, the anxieties which may be elicited in psychotherapists 
during the treatment situation are discussed in their constructive 
and in their disintegrative aspects. 


[1] ADLER, ALFRED: The Neurotic Constitution. Translated by Bernard 
Glueck. New York: Moffat, Yard & Co., 1917. 

[2] AUDEN, w. H.: The Age of Anxiety. New York: Random House, 1946. 
[3] BERDYAEV, NICHOLAS: Solitude and Society. London: 1938. 

[4] BINSWANGER, LUDWiG: Grundformen und Erkenntnis Menschlichen Da- 
seins. Zurich: Max Niehans Verlag, 1942. 

[5] FREUD, SIGMUND: A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis. New York: 
Liveright, 1935; Garden City Publ. Co., 1943. (Chapter on Anxiety) 

[6] : Beyond the Pleasuie Principle. London: Hogarth Press, 1942. 

132 Frieda Fromm-Reichmann 

[7] - . "On Narcissism: An Introduction." In: Collected Papers 4:30-59. 
London: Hogarth Press, 1946. 

[8] - : The Ego and the Id. London: Hogarth Press, 1935. 

[9] - . Problems of Anxiety. New York: Norton, 1936. 

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: The Organism. New York: American Book Co., 1939. 

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Psychiatric Aspects of Anxiety 133 

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chiat., 92:1347-69 (1956), 


The importance of the study of the dream in the development of 
psychoanalytic theory and practice is emphasized by Freud's 
statement that the dream is the "royal road to the unconscious" 
Freud's work in dream interpretation stands as the first modern 
scientific endeavor to show that dreams are both understandable 
and meaningful. Ella Freeman Sharpe is one of the more lucid 
interpreters of Freud's basic hypotheses; namely, the irrational 
nature of dreams, their wishful character, and their origin in 
infantile sexual strivings. There have been objections raised by 
many observers to one or all of these hypotheses. For example, 
Jung, one of the first dissenters from Freud, presents a theory 
that states that dreams may make rational statements about the 
dreamer, that they may have predictive qualities, and are not 
necessarily sexual in origin. 

The use of dreams in actual practice varies greatly with the 
theoretical orientation of the analyst and probably even more 
greatly with his personal style. 

Our knowledge of dreams has contributed to our understand- 
ing of unconscious phenomena. Freud's untiring delving into his 
own "night life" gave psychoanalysis the personal stamp it carries 



Evaluation of Dreams 

in Psycho-Analytic Practice 4 

1. Dream interpretation the corner-stone of psycho-analytic 

2. The value of the dream for the analyst. 

3. The value of exploration of the preconscious with reference 
to the work of Freud and Jones. 

4. The latent content is the clue to the wish-fulfilment. 

5. Convenience dreams. 

6. Illustrations of the value of dreams in addition to that of 
latent content. 

Freud's Interpretation of Dreams was the first textbook for 
psycho-analysts. His discovery of the unconscious mind placed in 
the foreground of interest the significance of dreams. Psycho- 
analytic technique in the early days of the therapy directed the 
patient's attention to them during the analytical hour almost to 
the exclusion of other topics in which the patient might be inter- 
ested. "Free association" sometimes meant in practice free associ- 
ation to dreams, and a patient who insisted upon dwelling upon 
other things was at times regarded as showing "resistance" to 
analysis. The technique of analysis was almost synonymous with 

* Reprinted by permission of The Hogarth Press Ltd. from Dream Analysis 
(The International Psycho-Analytical Library No. 29, 1937). 


138 Ella Freeman Sharpe 

the technique of dream interpretation. Every dream was eagerly 
exploited as the one and only way into the unconscious mind and 
a patient who did not dream presented a great problem to the 
analyst for whom the sole key was the dream. 

We know that dreams are not indispensable. We treat all that 
is said and done during the analytical hour as significant and our 
problem is to find the precise significance. 

One wonders sometimes if the pendulum has swung to the 
opposite extreme, and if instead of an over-valuation of dreams 
as a means of analysing a patient we are not in some danger of 
undervaluation. We may need to take stock again of the value 
of dreams, and to make an assessment concerning dreams in 

We must remember that the interpretation of dreams stands 
as the corner-stone of psycho-analysis, and that mainly by such 
interpretation psycho-analysis first earned by the cures achieved, 
adherents to the new therapy. The dream still remains, I believe, 
an important and almost indispensable means of understanding 
unconscious psychical conflicts. 

I will give first some advantages the analyst himself stands to 
gain by understanding a patient's dreams. Dreams serve as a kind 
of reference in analytic work. We can gauge by dreams, if we can 
interpret them, how true or wide of the mark are our interpreta- 
tions of the patient's general lun of associations, of his gestures 
or behaviour. We eventually cither get corroborations of our in- 
terpretations or we find that the patient's dreams indicate that 
we are not grasping the trend of aff airs. I do not mean that we can 
understand every dream recounted by the patient nor can we fol- 
low up clearly the psychical problems from one dream to the 
next continuously. If we could see the end from the beginning we 
should be as gods. I mean that at intervals we shall find dreams 
being told to us that show our analytic interpretations are accu- 
rate since they will be followed by dreams that corroborate and 
pursue and unfold further material of the relevant theme. Here 
is an example of the process I mean. A patient noticed during an 
hour's analysis some catkins in a vase. She spoke of the pollen 
falling from them and then of the prodigality of nature. Her 
thoughts were "tuned in," so to speak, to one idea, that of profu- 

Evaluation of Dreams in Psycho- Analytic Practice 139 

sion and generosity. The people who came to her mind were all 
of one type, generous with money, with ideas, with affection. The 
analyst said: "There was surely a time when you thought of your 
father as a generous giver. You seem to have thought of him as 
having abundance of good things which he gave generously, so 
much so he could afford not to care if there was waste.** To this 
the patient replied incredulously, "But my father as long as I 
can remember only gave me two presents.** The analyst replied, 
"That's as far back as you can remember, but you don't remem- 
ber earlier than four years of age, do you?" The patient agreed. 
The next day the patient told a dream in which "running water" 
was the main element. This evoked associations leading to her 
memory of the ecstasy she felt on first seeing a waterfall. The 
inference was drawn that she had first experienced this kind of 
excitement on seeing her father's penis while he was urinating. 
During the hour there suddenly came to the patient a vision of 
hanging fruit, clustered pears she thought, and finally she her- 
self volunteered that this picture must be a representation of her 
father's genitals seen in infancy when primitive oral desires hallu- 
cinate fulfilment from shapes that resemble the breast and nipple. 
This illustrates the value of the dream from the analyst's point 
of view, namely as a kind of touchstone of the validity of inter- 
pretation. Dreams will tell us whether we are really in touch with 
the. unconscious mind of the patient. There are dreams we can 
only partially interpret in the light of the material given. We have 
only a partial understanding of an unfolding situation. There are 
other dreams which confirm and elaborate the accurate interpre- 
tations we have given. From this point of view, for grip of his 
own work, the dream is invaluable for the analyst. 

I will give another type of value we gain from dreams. One 
needs to re-read at times the dream analyses detailed by Freud 
and Jones in their expositions of dreams. These analyses are clas- 
sical examples of the bringing to light of the emotional situations 
of the current day and present-day stimuli. Beyond certain affec- 
tive situations Freud thought fit to reveal in connection with his 
own childhood these dreams do not supply us with a great deal 
of either memory material nor of deep-seated unconscious phan- 
tasy. Neither could we expect it. What Freud has shown in a 

140 Ella Freeman Sharpe 

way unsurpassable is the immense ramification of pre-consclous 
thoughts, so illustrating the distorting mechanisms of condensa- 
tion, displacement, symbolization and dramatization, for the 
purpose of psychic ease in wish-fulfilment, 

Freud's actual analyses of dreams give us on the massive scale 
the value of the associations to a dream as a means of understand" 
ing the present-day emotional situations and conflicts in terms of 
the present-day events. They are examples of searching self -analy- 
sis of the pre-conscious, such as a fearless mind can undertake 
when there is enough self-knowledge to draw inferences from the 
material. These dreams draw our attention to one value of the 
dream, namely an investigation by free association of the signifi- 
cant present-day stimuli and the present-day setting of conflict 
and emotion. Without the present-day setting we do not and can- 
not comprehend the unity of the psychical life. We may know by 
interpretation of dream symbolism that a woman unconsciously 
is punishing herself for the wish to deprive her mother of chil- 
dren, or for the belief that omnipotently she brought about the 
death of her small brother at the age of two, but it is the explora- 
tion of the dream in terms of the pre-conscious and conscious 
mind that will give us just how this primitive wish, belief and 
guilt feeling work out in present-day life itself and, during the 
analysis, in terms of transference to the analyst. 

Given a woman of fifty, married, and with grown-up children, 
the dominance of this unconscious conflict will have resulted 
in specific present-day situations and present-day thinking. More 
than half a lifetime of psychical building has been done in con- 
nection with this major core of the long past. Not by the mere 
magic of interpretation alone shall we alter the patient's psychical 
orientation, an interpretation which was possible for the analyst 
to make in the case of this woman in the first week of analysis. 
The analyst must illustrate this past still living in the present, the 
past that cannot be left behind. We can do this only by seeing 
people of the present day in the roles of post imagoes, by seeing 
what are the present-day equivalents of past situations and realize 
the denouements that are forever being reached. So in this par- 
ticular patient the problem revealed itself in terms of houses 
first of all. Over a period of years her husband had secured house 

Evaluation of Dreams in Psycho-Analytic Practice 14! 

after house for her, always with the one result that her interest 
gradually waned, she finally disliked her home and decided they 
must leave it. She then had a prolonged holiday after which they 
made a fresh start. One factor alone is quite inadequate to explain 
this woman's unrest but one factor was undoubtedly the self-pun- 
ishment of turning herself out of her house to make amends for 
the wish and the belief that she had turned her brother out. My 
point at the moment is that the dream is a means of exploring 
the pre-conscious which together with its correlation with the 
conscious present-day settings of emotion and conflict will also 
include the past conflicts brought up to date. By this means, 
whether in transference or in the wider-flung life of the patient in 
all activities, we can estimate how far repressed memories and 
unconscious conflicts are contributing an untoward influence 
upon present-day life and conduct. 

I have found dreams an invaluable clue to a repressed major 
traumatic situation which an adult patient was compelled con- 
tinually to re-stage again in terms of his current life in order to 
bring about magically both the same and a different outcome 
from the original. Such dramatization in real life is of constant 
occurrence. It may be innocuous when not of a massive type 
having no untoward effect on the person's life in reality. For 
example, I know of a patient who for years never knew the 
reason why a bath taken during the day-time gave her a sense of 
well-being that no morning or evening bath afforded her. We 
found in the course of analysis that as a child of five she had been 
left to her own devices one afternoon and possessed of a jar of 
paste for sticking scraps in an album she had not only pasted in the 
scraps but had then proceeded to cover the furniture in the room 
and finally herself with the sticky paste. Her father on his return 
had smacked her hands, the first time he had physically punished 
her. The escapade was followed not only by a washing of the 
furniture but she herself was bathed. Clean and tidy once more 
the child saw her father again, was forgiven and kissed. The after- 
noon bath for the patient of forty still brought a feeling of absolu- 
tion that was greater than mere cleanliness. Nor, I may add, did 
the knowledge she gained of the significance of her unconscious 
dramatization lessen her satisfaction in an afternoon bath. This is 

142 Ella Freeman Sharpe 

a minor and innocuous example of dramatization. More serious 
types occur. When such dramatization constitutes in itself the 
re-enacting of the dissociated traumatic occurrence, dreams can 
be an important means of the resuscitation of the prototype of 
the dramatization. Here is such a dream which after a long baf- 
fling analysis brought me insight concerning the problem the 
patient was compelled to dramatize. Although the interpretation 
brought no direct conviction to the patient and no recovered 
memory it yet had the effect of making the actual dramatiza- 
tions that subsequently took place less fraught with serious con- 
sequences than former ones. The dream ran thus: *7 said good- 
bye to G. and sent her away and then I turned to you to embrace 
you [i.e. the analyst] and said good-bye. But I was standing on 
stilts and my dilemma was that if I let go my hand on the stilts to 
bend forward to kiss you it would mean my legs would give way 
and I should jail." From the associations given I was able to make 
the interpretation that in the dream the analyst represented the 
patient when a child and the patient in the dream represented a 
grandparent. The patient had been told, but had no active mem- 
ory, of an incident that occurred when she was two years of 
age. The grandparent was bending down to kiss the child when 
he collapsed from a seizure from which he died. I cannot enter 
here into all the fatalistic phantasies that subsequently were in- 
separable from the love impulses of this child. My purpose is to 
tell you that this dream gave the first satisfactory clue to the 
repeated dilemmas the patient unconsciously bi ought about 
which were an attempt to deal with the early trauma bound up 
with the deepest anxieties, for this trauma was a sudden dramatic 
loss by death of a good object not a phantasied loss only. 

I have spoken of the value of dreams as the touchstone by 
means of which the analyst can gauge how near he is to follow- 
ing the movements of the unconscious mind; that is, he will get 
corroboration and further elaboration following his interpreta- 

I have spoken of the value of exploring the pre-conscious as 
giving us the modern setting in which the long past is still played 
out, the modern persons in the old drama, the modern substitutes 
in present-day situations moulded on the past, the way in which 

Evaluation of Dreams in Psycho- Analytic Practice 143 

guilt is assuaged in present-day terms, or in which old rebellions 
are staged again. 

My next evaluation of dreams is in the matter of transference. 
Again, I think the dream is a touchstone with regard to the 
accuracy of interpretation of the transference. The analyst, by 
the help of dreams, can keep in close touch with what actually 
is being transferred unconsciously on to him and from whom 
transferred. The analyst needs to preserve objectivity if the 
patient is to gain it in this matter. Only by the analysis of the 
transference do we ultimately analyse the past in the present and 
so ultimately the unconscious conflicts. The dream par excellence 
with its associations gives us the bridge between the present and 
the past, just as for the time being the analyst is the person on to 
whom the problems in the unconscious mind are transferred. 
It is to this aspect of transference the analyst must adhere, and I 
know of no corrective like dreams to illuminate the fact that it 
is the infantile elements of development that are thus worked out 
in transference on to the analyst. We shall not be tempted to look 
upon the positive transference to ourselves as the equivalent of 
the love-life of a full personality, but as the transferred affects 
of a conflict within the psyche. Patients at various stages will of 
course equate their feelings for the analyst as being those of the 
mature adult. But the analyst if he is to deliver over the patient 
to a real love life must never lose sight of the fact that the remote 
secluded hour of analysis is part of the total phantasy that is 
being worked out and understood. The dream is the great help 
and corrective since in the dream we can see what is being trans- 
ferred, what situation is being enacted, what role is being thrust 
on to the analyst, what past affective situation is being re-staged. 

This leads me directly to what may be called the cardinal rule 
in dream analysis. There are many exceptions to this rule, but I 
believe there are more pitfalls for the analyst in neglecting the 
cardinal rule than there are in neglecting the many exceptions. 
This cardinal rule is that the meaning of a dream is ascertained 
by analysing the manifest content into its latent thoughts. The 
first impulse in connection with any dream is to try to interpret 
its meaning as it is given in the manifest content, and I believe 
this impulse has to be checked as much by the analyst in him- 

144 Ella Freeman Sharpe 

self as in the patient. The understanding of the dream as a wish- 
fulfilment is only reached in this way. We, as well as patients, may 
say of the manifest content of a dream "but this cannot possibly 
be a wish." To find the wishes that are represented we must know 
the latent thoughts, and along with those (which may represent 
opposing wishes) we must include those psychical forces that 
bring about displacement and seeming congruity. To give the 
idea that all dreams are simple wish-fulfilments as presented in 
their manifest content is to give that partial truth which leads 
as much astray as a lie. 

Here is a simple example of an anxiety dream. To say the dream 
as it stands is a wish-fulfilment is manifestly absurd. "A man is 
acting for the screen. He is to recite certain lines of the play. 
The photographers and voice recorders are there. At the critical 
moment the actor forgets his lines. Time and again he makes the 
attempt with no result. Rolls of film must have been spoilt" 
The dreamer had great anxiety watching the actor fail at these 
critical moments. 

It is only when one knows the latent content that one realizes 
the conflict of wishes represented in such a dream. The photog- 
raphers and voice recorders cannot get the actor to perform 
although they are all assembled for that purpose. He forgets his 
lines. The anxiety of the dreamer is, in the manifest content, 
caused by the fact that he can say nothing when everyone is 
waiting for him to do so. The actual infantile situation revealed 
by the associations was that the dreamer was once the onlooker 
when his parents were "operating" together. The baby was the 
original photographer and recorder and he stopped the parents in 
the "act" by noise. The baby did not forget his lines! The original 
anxiety was connected with an actual doing, not with abstention 
from activity at the critical moment. It is always helpful to re- 
member that original anxieties regarding our impulse life are 
concerned with what we did or wished to do, not with our sins of 
omission. The "return of the repressed" is given in the dream 
by the element "rolls of film must have been wasted" telling us 
by the device of metonymy, of a huge amount of faecal matter 
the baby was able to pass at that moment. 

Illustrated in this dream are some of the profouridest activities 

Evaluation of Dreams in Psycho- Analytic Practice 145 

of the psyche. We have the recording of sight and sound by the 
infant and the incorporation by the senses of sight and hearing of 
the primal scene. We have evidence of this incorporated scene by 
its projection into the dream dramatization. The modern inven- 
tion of the screen of the cinema is pressed into service as the 
appropriate symbol, the screen being the modern external device 
corresponding to the internal dream picture mechanism. 

The original onlooker becomes the active doer, drawing atten- 
tion to himself, not in articulate words, but by inference from 
the wasted rolls to the one thing he could do, namely make 
a mess and a noise that brought the operators to a standstill. 
Moreover, by displacement of aifect, of counter-wish against 
the original wish, by the dream work which attempts to resolve 
anxiety there is presented in miniature the conflict of desires. 

The cardinal rule is to analyse the manifest dream into its 
latent elements. One finds in transference dreams particularly 
that patients will attempt to interpret the dream from its manifest 
content. There is often a marked resistance to submitting such 
dreams to analysis, that is of treating the elements separately and 
unearthing the infantile situation and finding the figure for whom 
the analyst is a proxy. When a strong positive or negative trans- 
ference is in full swing a dream may so gather up the infantile 
longings and so strongly picture them with regard to the analyst 
that the manifest dream content is taken almost as a reality. The 
reason for this is often due to the fact that in the dream there 
is embedded a bit of childhood reality not remembered in con- 
sciousness, and unknown to the patient this submerged experi- 
ence is being relieved. Again the important thing is to find the 
latent thoughts, and to track down the real experience. In the 
analysis of transference dreams this is vitally important. A patient 
will often say: "Well, I dreamt about you last night, and you were 
doing so and so, or Ms and that happened." I find in such trans- 
ference dreams the patient is particularly anxious to interpret the 
dream as a whole, and I am inclined to think that the analyst too 
may be more often tempted to consider manifest content rather 
than the latent one in such types of dreams. These above all must 
be explored for the repressed thoughts, phantasies and memories. 
Here is an example in illustration of my argument. '7 dreamt you 

146 Ella Freeman Sharpe 

were angry with me and would not forgive me." The patient who 
related this dream could not for a time rid herself of the convic- 
tion that the analyst was in reality angry with her. Only by the 
analyst's close following on of the work of the previous day's 
analysis did there emerge the memory of putting the paste over 
the furniture, an incident to which I referred in illustrating dram- 
atization. The fact was that the child was angry with her father. 
In the analysis the affective projection on the analyst came first. 
"You are angry with me and won't forgive me." The psychical 
truth was "I am angry with you and won't forgive you," which 
was the real significance of the childhood escapade. 

I find that short compact dreams also are apt to be taken at 
the valuation of the manifest content and interpreted often by 
the patient off-hand and dismissed with satisfaction. For example, 
a man patient says, "7 dreamt I was having successful intercourse 
with X." He goes on to say: "I told you I met her the other day 
and how pretty and attractive I thought she was." He comments 
further, "A very natural dream, and it is easy to see a wish-ful- 
filment." This is a good example of what I mean by the urge to 
interpret the manifest content as it stands. The short compact 
dream of this type is often most difficult to analyse and when it 
yields to analysis is often the most fruitful. This particular dream 
led to the most deep-seated phantasies of the dreamer's infantile 
fears of the inside of the mother's body. These latent thoughts 
were only accessible through associative material that was avail- 
able when he thought of women who had characteristics the 
exact opposite of the woman in the dream. 

Having stated the general rule I would now draw your atten- 
tion to exceptions. There are dreams in which it is possible to read 
the meaning without the latent content, dreams of a simple type 
in which the symbolism is straightforward and typical. The dream 
I quoted in the first chapter in which the dreamer saw music in 
pictures which passed before her eyes, pictures of mountains and 
hills softly rounded, is an example, This dream could be evalu- 
ated at once, since it was the dream of a patient who had passed 
through a severe trauma, who was keeping contact with reality 
but struggling and finding it almost unbearable. The external 
reality situation of extreme frustration is compensated for by 

Evaluation of Dreams in Psycho-Analytic Practice 147 

dreams of fulfilment of desire. Here is another dream that can be 
partly interpreted without latent content. A patient brought me at 
close intervals dreams of being wheeled in a perambulator. This 
patient was finding the effort to keep in touch with reality almost 
impossible. A young girl I had some time ago who had had a 
nervous breakdown brought me dreams for some weeks in which 
everything had stopped. Trains, buses, lifts, everything that in 
reality is only of value if it moves, had in her dreams come to a 
standstill. These dreams were important in their latent content, 
but I am illustrating here the fact that the manifest content as a 
whole can at times convey a meaning to the analyst. Dreams of 
making circumstances fit our physical requirements in order to 
prevent disturbance of sleep can be understood from manifest 
content. Here are some examples: 

"/ dreamt I got out of bed to urinate." "I dreamt I arrived in 
time for my early appointment." I dreamt someone picked up the 
eiderdown from the floor and replaced it on my bed." Such 
dreams yield up an immediate significance. 

I pass next to another type of evaluation to be gained from 

These are dreams in which the latent content may be of sig- 
nificance, but not of such importance as the psychological pur- 
pose which the whole dream fulfils. The manifest content of the 
dream will not necessarily give the purpose of the dream as in 
the case of the examples I have cited. The dream will yield up its 
latent meaning through analysis, and yet to direct the analysis to 
ascertaining the meaning of the different elements is to miss the 
chief significance of the dream as a whole. Dreams sometimes 
serve as a means of placating the analyst, and so assuaging anx- 
iety about the phantasies that have been transferred to the analyst. 
In this situation it is not the analysis of the actual dream that is 
important, but the analysis of the necessity to placate. A male 
patient, for example, who is dealing with unconscious aggres- 
sive phantasies towards the father figure, and therefore is uncon- 
sciously fearful of the analyst's attack, will often produce num- 
bers of dreams which have the total significance of placation. 
They are a gift to turn away the imagined wrath of the avenger. 

In another type of dream one must think of purpose rathei 

148 Ella Fieeman Sharpe 

than of latent content, namely when a long dream requires half 
an hour to recount, or a series of dreams take up the same length 
of time. Content may be important, but of first importance is the 
finding out of the unconscious purpose that is being served by 
the occupation of half an hour in recounting the dreams. I have 
known ten dreams to be recorded by one patient in this way. 
Among the purposes thus served I have found: (a) Resistance 
to speaking of present-day occurrences, (b) The dreams may 
represent potency, urethral, anal and sexual, (c) They may be 
symbolic gifts, (d) They may represent a gift following a with- 
holding. When dreams are written out and read by the patient I 
often find they represent a good faecal product, which in contrast 
to a childhood accident is given neatly and confined to the paper. 
I remember an occasion upon which a patient said after re- 
counting a number of dreams, "I am remembering a poem by 
Yeats, in which he says: 

I, being poor, have only my dreams; 
Tread softly, for you tread on my dreams." 

The significance of the dreams was thus immediately clear. They 
were a love gift to the analyst. Their significance is still more 
detailed, for the inference is that the dreams are on the floor, and 
must be trodden on very softly. The child's mess on the floor may 
as easily mean a gift as an assault, "Tread softly, for you tread 
on my dreams." 

I have spoken of the dream as a whole serving the purpose of 
placating, but sometimes the actual manifest content will do this. 
For example, the manifest content will sometimes give in direct 
form a phantasy that carries on some interpretation the analyst 
has given the day before. The dream betrays this by the com- 
pleteness of its confirmation. An astute patient of my own gener- 
ally recognizes this and says frankly "This dream is to oblige." 
The "obliging dream" is a placating one. It resembles the obedi- 
ence of a fearful child. The analyst, when the patient is well 
versed in the main problems of psycho-analysis, must be on the 
alert when a dream presents a perfect "complex." The safeguard 
here lies in the analysis of the associations and the affects of tlvs 

Evaluation of Dreams in Psvcho- Analytic Practice 149 

On the other hand we have in contrast to the patient who will 
obligingly tell us we are right and go on and confirm our interpre- 
tations the one who must prove we are wrong, and who will fol- 
low up an interpretation we have given by a dream which will 
prove us wrong. In both these types of dreams the analysis must 
be directed to the purpose of the dream rather than the content. 

Another evaluation concerning dreams may be made from the 
patient's own attitude to them. Not only do patients differ in their 
attitudes to their own dreams but the same patient will have dif- 
ferent attitudes at varying times. Some tend to undervalue dreams 
and others do the reverse. One finds on the whole that patients 
who have the greatest difficulty in bringing into the analysis their 
present-day emotions as they experience them with regard to 
people and affairs, who in reality find it difficult to express theii 
opinions and criticisms inside and outside analysis, use their 
dreams as a means of diverting the attention and interest of the 
analyst from the patient's daily life. One may know much about 
unconscious phantasies, much of the patient's childhood, and yet 
fail to see the interrelation between these and the present-day 
conflicts. Such patients are often distressed if there are no dreams 
to recount and even feel they are not progressing and cannot 
progress unless dreams are forthcoming. In such cases, important 
as the help is that dreams will give, the objective on the part of 
the analyst must be the present-day stimuli, reality situations 
present and past, and suppressed transference affects. 

Of the opposite type is the patient who clings to reality and 
resists all attempts to penetrate into the phantasy life. Such pa- 
tients frequently undervalue dream-material. One patient I know 
rationalizes even this fact by saying he welcomes dreams when 
he can get them because then he feels he is truly getting some- 
thing direct from his unconscious. In his case this means: "My 
unconscious has produced this and therefore I am not respon- 

In two situations 1 have learned to surmise an important dream 
is being held back though it is not invariably so. In anxiety cases 
where a certain amount of analysis has been done, or in cases 
where anxiety has been released, I correlate an excessive outburst 
of anxiety with the following probable conditions: 

150 Ella Freeman Sharpe 

(a) a present-day stimulus is not remembered during the ana- 
lytical hour. 

(b) a repressed event or phantasy that this stimulus has 
activated is near to consciousness. 

(c) a dream of the night before has been forgotten or delayed 
in the telling. 

Again with patients who are intellectualists and whose affects 
are difficult to release I find very often that an hour that has been 
baffling in that the patient does not seem to be able to do more 
than switch from one topic to another has ended with a recall 
of the dream of the previous night. In such cases I find that on 
the following day the analysis of this dream can proceed and one 
gets some light on the reason why the dream was delayed in the 
telling. Sometimes this may be because of latent content; at 
others the significance will lie in the transference situation and the 
fact of retention. 

One may have the experience of a baffling analytical hour and 
then be told the following day by the patient that he remembered 
a dream after he had gone away. Such delayed dreams are mainly 
important because of latent content and worth subsequent in- 

A common resistance dream is one in which the patient dreams 
that he is telling the analyst something of great importance. It 
is "only a dream" and that is itself the reassurance. The matter of 
great importance need not be hoped for on that day. I remember 
a very marked instance of this type of dream in my experience 
with a patient who had an actual repressed traumatic sexual 
experience at the age of four. Before we really began to get indi- 
cations of this fact she had many dreams of a young girl with a 
great secret which caused her sorrow and she, the patient, in the 
dream would plead with this girl to give her her confidence and 
reveal what the secret trouble was. The girl would remain obdu- 
rate. These dreams were most distressing in affect and baffling in 
analysis and yet they were most revealing in the sense that one 
was ultimately led to the revelation of an actual trauma. 

I will only refer to typical dreams very briefly. A "crowd" in 
a dream indicates a secret. The analyst's work is to find the secret. 
Examination and train dreams however typical will have their 

Evaluation of Dreams in Psycho-Analytic Practice 151 

individual nuances. Train dreams are used for many purposes. 
I gave one in the second lecture illustrating oral and anal phanta- 
sies. Such dreams will at times be accompanied by anxiety, where 
they are expressing past situations of incontinence of urine, as for 
example when the dreamer cannot catch the train since be arrives 
too late. The analyst's task is to discover a present-day emotional 
situation comparable to a past one in which the physical accom- 
paniment was incontinence of urine. "Train" dreams can express 
indecision concerning some problem, as for example when the 
dreamer is actually in time for the train and then at last fails to 
board it. The analyst has the task of finding out what this sym- 
bolized "doubt" really means. 

I should like to call your attention to the type of dream that 
symbolizes bodily functioning and bodily sensations. 

In an earlier chapter I said that intuitive knowledge is experi- 
enced knowledge, and that the unconscious is a storehouse of 
experience which we may have forgotten but have never lost. The 
experiences of the body ego from earliest infancy can be found 
m dreams if we can understand them. Dreams wiiJ sometimes pre- 
sent us with evidence of bodily experiences before the child was 
articulate and others will give us knowledge of present-day sup- 
pressed experiences. An example of a simple dream that gave 
evidence of present-day suppressed bodily experience is: "/ dreamt 
I was picking flowers last night." We can infer from this that 
masturbation occurred the night of the dream. 

A dream of distress concerning the hearing of a mighty wind 
will often be stimulated by actual flatulence. Such dreams are of 
frequent occurrence. There are dreams of this type that give us 
bodily experiences of very early years and no actual memory will 
ever be forthcoming, but the body remembers and the eye once 
having seen has stored a picture which a dream can reproduce. 
For example, "/ was running one way on one side of the railings 
and a man in shorts was running the opposite way on the other 
side of the railings." "I was running" in the dream proved during 
analysis to be a pictorial representation of bodily experience of 
urinating. The "opposite way" referred to the observation of her 
father's "running" which was different from hers. The "railings" 
were the intervening bars of the cot bed. 

152 Ella Freeman Sharpe 

Here is another example. A patient described quite vividly a 
special place on a road, this road being an element in his dream. 
He knew exactly how many yards he was from this object and 
that object. Then he said: "But if I can say so accurately just 
where I was I must have been quite stationary. The place was 
stationary and yet I told you I was moving." From the content of 
the hour the interpretation of "stationary and yet moving" was 
that he was urinating. 

I find that on to all kinds of machinery and movable apparatus 
can be transferred bodily sensations, especially those experienced 
at an early age. These are a few examples: '7 was in a room and 
suddenly the door opened and a great flood of water came in." 
This is interesting enough as the evidence of an "accident" but 
it is the one dream that I am bold enough to quote as possibly 
embodying also a birth experience. It was ascertained that the 
patient's birth was heralded by an unexpected sudden bursting of 
the waters. The fact was unknown to the patient at the time of the 
dream. '7 was in a lift and suddenly it went down flop." This 
dream I found to be the representation of an experience of fluid 
excreta rushing down and flopping on the floor. Here is an as- 
surance in a dream dealing with the same anxiety experience in 
childhood. The dreamer said: *7 saw a marvellous thing happen. 
A 'car' went straight up a building on the outside somehow and 
got safely to a garage, I suppose on the upper storey." The associ- 
ations to this dream through references made to the way in which 
a dentist's chair works up and down brought the memory of the 
patient's baby's chair that could be made higher and lower. The 
dreamer had no actual memory of herself in the chair, but the 
dream undoubtedly dramatized an experience where instead of 
the "car" (Ka Ka) going up safely into a garage it came down 
much to the anxiety of the little child. The dream had further sig- 
nificances. On to the mechanism of the chair were transferred 
the bodily sensations felt while the child was in the chair, and 
from this dream the inference could be made that the accident 
occurred in the chair. To another patient I am indebted for this 
very valuable dream. The patient dreamt he was trying to get rid 
of faeces in a lavatory pan, and then it filled up with water instead 
cf emptying. The phantasies involved in this dream were of im~ 

Evaluation of Dreams in Psycho- Analytic Practice 153 

portance, but I think even then their full significance can only be 
realized by the understanding of an actual happening. Here in this 
dream we have a representation of what it felt like first to try 
to pass a motion and then the subsequent experience of an enema 

Here is another dream of the same type. The dreamer thought 
he was in a passage -with a mop which he was using to swab it out. 
During the hour's analysis the patient recounted a conversation 
of the evening before when someone had said : "Your ears are not 
set quite alike." After telling me this, the patient covered his ears 
with his hands. The dream stimulated the patient to give phanta- 
sies and associations that had reference both to faecal matter and 
hair. The gesture of covering the ears had the significance of both 
preventing his own hearing and being heard, protecting himself 
and protecting me. But to understand more fully the significance 
of the ears and particular inhibitions in connection with hearing 
and the over-determination of phantasy about ears, other facts 
have to be taken into account. The patient had an operation on 
his ear too early for him to retain any conscious memory of it. 
Underlying all phantasy there is in this dream an inherent body- 
memory as well : the passage was actually an ear passage that was 
once swabbed out. In this dream the man is the active doer, not 
the passive agent. A stimulus for the dream in addition to the 
reference to ears in the conversation of the evening before was 
that for a few seconds during his analysis of the previous day 
the maid was dusting the stairs outside the consulting room. I 
registered this fact but it was noticeable that the patient made no 
reference to this at the time. 

In the interpretation of dreams the analyst can turn to account 
the gestures or minor actions performed by the patient during the 
analytic hour. The technique in this way approximates in adult 
analysis to the principles of play-technique with children. One has 
to interpret actions or gestures as either dramatizing the dream 
in some symbolic way or as a means of dealing with anxiety by 
correcting the impulse or event in the dream. Here are some 
illustrations of these different purposes of actual dramatization 
during analysis. 

The patient who dreamt of the eiderdown slipping off the bed 

154 Ella Freeman Sharpe 

and of its being put over her again, suddenly felt cold during the 
analysis and put her coat over her. The dream gives first an 
experience of the night before when she really was cold and did 
not wish to wake up to adjust the eiderdown, and so dreamt it 
was done for her. This was a convenience dream. The repetition 
of the situation during the analytical hour, however, needed in- 
quiry, for the room was warm. 

Here is an example of dramatization during analysis that must 
be interpreted alongside the dream material. The purpose served by 
the dramatization was that the anxiety inherent in the dream was 
resolved, for the actions were the exact opposite of the repressed 
memory and wish. The patient, a man, came in and lay down on 
the couch. A second afterwards he thrust his hands in his pocket. 
"Hullo," he said, in great surprise. "What's this?" He drew out a 
crumpled envelope, looked at it and then said: "Oh, it's nothing, 
waste paper, that's all." He then went on talking in the usual 
way. A little later he thrust his hand in his pocket again and 
suddenly got up saying: "I can't stand this any longer, where's 
your wastepaper basket? I must get this into the wastepaper 
basket." Still later in the hour when talking about a MS. he was 
at work upon he said: "Look here, I must just see if I made those 
corrections," and he jumped up again and went to his attache 
case, looked at his MS., and came back with a sigh of relief, "Yes, 
it's all right, I corrected the errors." 

His dream was: "There were two visitors and I was bothered as 
to where they would sleep. I put one of (hem in a bed I knew 
was to spare. I gave the other visitor my bed, but then I had 
nowhere to sleep myself." 

The relevant associations during the hour taken in conjunction 
with the actions I have recorded proved that we were dealing with 
a repressed incident in early life when the rubbish was not 
deposited in the wastepaper basket, since it occurred at an early 
age when he could not correct his errors and as a consequence 
his parents were turned out of their bed because of the small 

Conversation dreams often prove difficult of analysis. I have 
learned to recognize the following types. The persons conversing 
will often represent different aspects of the dreamer's psyche un- 

Evaluation of Dreams in Psycho- Analytic Practice 153 

der the guise of different people. In some dreams the conversation 
will contain words or phrases that have been incorporated be- 
cause of their own significance or because of the importance of 
the person who uttered them. Sometimes such an incorporated 
phrase of the present day may overlay a phrase used by someone 
in the patient's past. In the "cockatoo" dream I quoted in the last 
lecture one has an example of two people conversing who repre- 
sent different parts of the psyche, while the word "cockatoo" 
itself was an element worth investigating on its own account. 

Dreams containing numbers are often difficult to analyse and 
they do not always repay the inquiry. If one can evoke from the 
patient something concrete associated with the specific number, 
it will often lead to a valuable interpretation. One must always 
remember the term "figure" means shape as well as number. One 
patient of mine has always maintained that "four" is a feminine 
number. We have had many symbolical interpretations of the 
number four which are easy to supply. I never felt convinced 
about the significance of "four" in this instance until the patient 
recalled a bedroom scene and said: "You know I remember 
watching my mother undress when I was a tiny boy. She always 
plaited her hair in four long tails." "Four" thus became a femi- 
nine number for him and the satisfaction in the fact was that the 
tails were an assurance of masculinity. The number five often 
ultimately refers to the five fingers and hence to infantile mastur- 
bation. A man dreamt that a husband and wife were together for 
five days. The subtle nuance of this dream was to be found 
through a reference he made to the book of Genesis. He recalled 
that it was on the sixth day that God made man and on the 
seventh day he called his whole creation very good. In the dream 
husband and wife were together five days only. 

A patient of mine had an appointment for the first time at the 
Clinic. He did not arrive at the appointed time, for he tried to 
find the clinic at number "sixty -three." A dream revealed that 
"sixty-three" was the number of a house in a certain district 
where he had once been told prostitutes were to be found. 

A dream of the number 180 was interpreted for me during an 
analytical session as meaning "I ate nothing." 

Colours in dreams are very important for one of my patients. I 

156 Ella Freeman Sharpe 

always ask for more details concerning any colour, and in addi- 
tion, if the colour is pertaining to material, I ask for details con- 
cerning the type of material. I have proved conclusively through 
this patient my surmise that both creative imagination and artistic 
appreciation are firmly rooted in the earliest reality experiences of 
taste, touch and sound, For this patient an oatmeal-coloured 
material had a "crunchy" feeling and the "crunchy" feeling in 
her fingers always brought sensation in her teeth. 

A cherry coloured silk will make her mouth water and she 
longs to put her cheeks gently on its surface. The range of 
colours for this patient are in terms of cream, butter, lemon, 
orange, cherry, peach, damson, wine, plum, nut brown, chestnut 
brown. Materials can be crunchy like biscuits, soft like beaten 
white of eggs, thick like cake. Threads can be coarse like the gi ain 
of wholemeal bread, shine like the skin of satin. I do not let any 
reference to colour or material or to dress escape me in the 
dreams this patient brings. 

Another interesting mechanism one patient unconsciously em- 
ploys made it possible for me to deduce from a dream what 
reality situation stimulated it. The mechanism throws a light upon 
the complicated problem of the different methods by which sta- 
bility of the psyche is achieved, a problem I believe of such im- 
mense complexity that we know little of it. We realize only the 
grosser mechanisms and nothing of the wheels within wheels that 
work together in the unity of a psyche more subtly than all the 
physiological forces that work together in the bodily organism. 
With this patient I only get a really definite dream of hostility 
to mother, father, brothers and sisters in certain conditions. 
Many dreams have shown veiled hostile wishes, but a plain un- 
camouflaged dream of hostility, of actual death wishes, is forth- 
coming only if in reality there has been the direct stimulus of 
hearing actual appreciation of the person who afterwards figures 
in the dream as the object of hostile wishes. If the patient hears 
unexpectedly words of praise concerning any relative she dreams 
of that relative in a hostile manner. So marked has this been that 
I can guess the reality stimulus of an open hostile dream. The 
explanation is not as simple as it appears. It is only to be under- 
stood by appreciating the problem of how and in what manner 

Evaluation of Dreams in Psycho-Analytic Practice 15? 

the psyche maintains its equilibrium of forces. Some people attain 
this by a much greater interplay with actual people in their en- 
vironment; their lives so to speak are more psychically interwoven 
and played out with other people. 

Hie patient of whom I speak had a fairly stable environment 
until the age of five and no external difficulty of a major type 
within that period. This meant a degree of genital development. 
An actual rival to the mother came into the household when the 
patient was five. This rival who won the father's affection was 
openly hostile to the mother. The consequence of this was a pro- 
found repression of the (Edipus situation in the patient. The hostile 
feelings to the mother were intolerable. They were embodied by 
one who was a real obstacle to the mother's happiness and not a 
phantasied one. The lasting influence of this real situation is given 
in the special mechanism by which dreams that express the origi- 
nal hostility felt towards her mother and the other children can 
be expressed. When someone real in the present-day environment 
is spontaneously appreciative of them then there comes a relaxa- 
tion within the patient's psyche. We reach then in such dreams 
the original hostility felt before the trauma at the age of five 
years. This is the goal of the analysis in order that there may 
ensue attainment of an inner equilibrium rather than one that is 
dependent upon the environment. The importance of the time- 
factor in analysis is brought home to us since in a mechanism of 
this type the patient's contacts with reality, the dramatizations of 
the psychic life in these real situations have all to be explored 
with infinite patience. 

I will summarize briefly the different evaluations of dreams. 

Dream interpretation is a corner-stone of psycho-analytic tech- 
nique. The analyst can gauge by dreams how closely he is keeping 
in touch with the patient's unconscious problem. They help him 
to understand the transference affects in terms of those same 

Dreams are a means of exploring present-day stimuli and cur- 
rent conflicts through the elaboration of pre-conscious thoughts 
To understand the unity of psychical life, the interrelation of the 
^re-conscious with the unconscious must be known. 

The latent content of the dream is arrived at by the method of 

158 Ella Freeman Sharpe 

free association to the different elements of the dream. This is 
dream analysis. 

Dreams may prove of value apart from or in addition to the 
significance of the latent content. They may be used as a means 
of unconsciously placating the analyst, as symbolic of power, of 
control over fascal product, as proof of control over the analyst. 
The dream may represent a love gift. 

The patient's over- valuation or under-estimation of dreams is 
itself an aid to understanding the psychical problem. 

Dreams often reveal both present-day bodily experiences and 
forgotten ones of childhood. The correlation of such bodily sen- 
sations with phantasy is the object of the analyst. 

Characteristic gesture and behaviour needs to be correlated 
with the patient's associations in arriving at the meaning of a 

The interpretation of gesture and characteristic actions ap- 
proximates to the play-technique in the analysis of children. 

The key to the dramatization in real life of a major repressed 
traumatic situation may often be found through a dream. 

The clue to the significance of conversation, numbers and 
colours in dreams can often be reached through the patient's 
associations to some specific person or specific object. 



Dream Analysis in Its Practical 

The use of dream-analysis in psychotherapy is still a much 
debated question. Many practitioners find it indispensable in the 
treatment of neuroses, and ascribe as much importance to the 
psychic activity manifested in dreams as to consciousness itself. 
Others, on the contrary, dispute the value of dream-analysis, 
and regard dreams as a negligible by-product of the psyche. 

Obviously, if a person holds the view that the unconscious 
plays a leading role in the formation of neuroses, he will attrib- 
ute practical significance to dreams as direct expressions of the 
unconscious. If, on the other hand, he denies the unconscious or 
thinks that it has no part in the development of neuroses, he will 
minimize the importance of dream-analysis. It is regrettable that 
in this year of grace 1931, more than half a century since Cams 
formulated the concept of the unconscious, over a century since 
Kant spoke of the "immeasurable . . . field of obscure ideas," 
and nearly two hundred years since Leibniz postulated an uncon- 
scious psychic activity, not to mention the achievements of Janet, 
Flournoy and Freud that after all this, the actuality of the un- 
conscious should still be a matter for controversy. Since it is my 
intention to deal exclusively with questions of practical treatment, 
I will not attempt in this place a defence of the hypothesis of the 
unconscious, though it is obvious enough that dream-analysis 

* Reprinted by permission of Harcourt, Brace and Company and Routledge 
and Kegan Paul, Ltd., from Modern Man in Search of a Soul by C. G. Jung. 


160 C. G. Jung 

stands or falls with this hypothesis. Without it the dream appears 
to be merely a freak of nature, a meaningless conglomerate 
of memory-fragments left over from the happenings of the day. 
Were the dream nothing more than this, there would be no excuse 
for the present discussion. We must recognize the unconscious if 
we are to treat of drearn-analysis at all, for we do not resort to 
it as a mere exercise of the wits, but as a method for uncovering 
hitherto unconscious psychic contents which are causally related 
to the neurosis and therefore of importance in its treatment. Any- 
one who deems this hypothesis unacceptable must simply rule out 
the question of the practicability of dream-analysis. 

But since, according to our hypothesis, the unconscious plays 
a causal part in the neurosis, and since dreams are the direct 
expression of unconscious psychic activity, the attempt to analyse 
and interpret dreams is entirely justified from a scientific stand- 
point. Quite apart from therapeutic results, we may expect this 
line of endeavour to give us scientific insight into psychic cau- 
sality. For the practitioner, however, scientific discoveries can at 
most be a gratifying by-product of his efforts in the field of 
therapy. He will not feel called upon to apply dream-analysis to 
his patients on the chance that it may throw light upon the prob- 
lem of psychic causality. He may believe, of course, that the 
insight so gained is of therapeutic value in which case he will 
regard dream-analysis as one of his professional duties. It is well 
known that the Freudian school is of the opinion that important 
therapeutic effects are achieved by throwing light upon the un- 
conscious causal factors that is, by explaining them to the pa- 
tient and thus making him conscious of the sources of his trouble. 

If we assume, for the time being, that this expectation is borne 
out by the facts, we can restrict ourselves to the questions 
whether or not dream-analysis enables us to discover the uncon- 
scious causes of the neurosis, and whether it can do this unaided, 
or must be used in conjunction with other methods. The Freudian 
answer, I may assume, is common knowledge. My own experi- 
ence confirms this view inasmuch as I have found that dreams not 
infrequently bring to light in an unmistakable way the uncon- 
scious contents that are causal factors in a neurosis. Most often 
it is the initial dreams that do this I mean, those dreams that a 

Dream Analysis in Its Practical Application 161 

patient reports at the very outset of a treatment. An illustration 
will perhaps be helpful. 

I was consulted by a man who held a prominent position in 
the world. He was afflicted with a sense of anxiety and insecurity, 
and complained of dizziness sometimes resulting in nausea, of 
a heavy head and difficulty in breathing this being an exact 
description of the symptoms of mountain-sickness. He had had 
an unusually successful career, and had risen, with the help of 
ambition, industry and native talent, from a humble origin as 
the son of a poor peasant. Step by step he had climbed, attaining 
at last an important post that offered him every opportunity for 
further social advancement. He had actually reached a place in 
life from which he could have begun his ascent into the upper 
regions, when suddenly his neurosis intervened. At this point 
of his story the patient could not refrain from that stereotyped 
exclamation which begins with the familiar words: "And just 
now, when I . . ." The fact that he had all the symptoms of 
mountain-sickness was highly appropriate to the peculiar situa- 
tion in which he found himself. He had brought with him to the 
consultation two dreams of the preceding night. 

The first dream was as follows: "I am once more in the small 
village where I was born. Some peasant boys who went to school 
with me are standing together in the street. I walk past them, pre- 
tending not to know them. I hear one of them, who is pointing at 
me, say: 'He doesn't often come back to our village.' " No tricks 
of interpretation are needed to recognize and to understand the 
allusion to the humble beginnings of the dreamer's career. The 
dream says quite clearly: "You forget how far down you began." 

Here is the second dream: "I am in a great hurry because I am 
going on a journey. I hunt up my baggage, but cannot find it. 
Time flies, and the train will soon be leaving. Finally I succeed 
in getting all my things together. I hurry along the street, discover 
that I have forgotten a brief-case containing important papers, 
dash breathlessly back again, find it at last, and then run towards 
the station, but make hardly any headway. With a final effort I 
rush on to the platform only to find the train steaming out into 
the yards. It is very long, and runs in a curious S-shaped curve. 
It occurs to me that if the driver is not careful, and puts on full 


steam when he comes to the straight stretch, the rear coaches will 
still be on the curve and will be thrown over by the speed of the 
train. As a matter of fact the driver opens the throttle as I try to 
shout. The rear coaches rock frightfully, and are actually thrown 
off the rails. There is a terrible catastrophe. I awake in terror." 

Here, too, we can understand without much difficulty the situa- 
tion represented by the dream. It pictures the patient's frantic 
haste to advance himself still further. Since the driver at the front 
of the train goes thoughtlessly ahead, the coaches behind him 
rock and finally overturn that is, a neurosis is developed. It 
is clear that, at this period of life, the patient had reached the 
highest point of his career that the effort of the long ascent from 
his lowly origin had exhausted his strength. He should have 
contented himself with his achievements, but instead he is driven 
by his ambition to attempt to scale heights of success for which 
he is not fitted. The neurosis came upon him as a warning. Cir- 
cumstances prevented my treating the patient, and my view of 
his case did not satisfy him. The upshot was that events ran 
their course in the way indicated by the dream. He tried to exploit 
the professional openings that tempted his ambition and ran so 
violently off the track that the train-wreck was realized in actual 
life. The patient's anamnesis permitted the inference that the 
mountain-sickness pointed to his inability to climb any further. 
The inference is confirmed by his dreams which present this in- 
ability as a fact. 

We here come upon a characteristic of dreams that must take 
first place in any discussion of the applicability of dream-analysis 
to the treatment of neuroses. The dream gives a true picture of 
the subjective state, while the conscious mind denies that this 
state exists, or recognizes it only grudgingly. The patient's con- 
scious ego could see no reason why he should not go steadily 
forward; he continued his struggle for advancement, refusing to 
admit the fact which subsequent events made all too plain that 
he was actually at the end of his tether. When, in such cases, we 
listen to the dictates of the conscious mind, we are always in 
doubt. We can draw opposite conclusions from the patient's 
anamnesis. After all, the private soldier may carry a marshal's 
baton in his knapsack, and many a son of poor parents has 

Dream Analysis in Its Practical Application 163 

achieved the highest success. Why should it not be so in my pa- 
tient's case? Since my judgement is fallible, why should my own 
conjecture be more dependable than his? At this point the dream 
comes in as the expression of an involuntary psychic process not 
controlled by the conscious outlook. It presents the subjective 
state as it really is. It has no respect for my conjectures or for the 
patient's views as to how things should be, but simply tells how 
the matter stands. I have therefore made it a lule to put dreams 
on a plane with physiological fact. If sugar appears in the urine, 
then the urine contains sugar, and not albumen or urobilin or 
something else that I may have been led to expect. This is to say 
that I take dreams as facts that are invaluable for diagnosis. 

It is the way of dreams to give us more than we ask, and this 
is true of those I have just cited as illustrations. They not only 
allowed us an insight into the causes of the neurosis, but afforded 
a prognosis as well. What is more, they showed us at what point 
the treatment should begin. The patient must be prevented from 
going full steam ahead. This is precisely what he tells himself in 
the dream. 

For the time being we will content ourselves with this hint, and 
return to the question whether dreams enable us to explain the 
causes of a neurosis. I have cited two dreams that actually do 
this. But I could equally well cite any number of initial dreams 
which do nothing of the kind, although they are perfectly trans- 
parent. I do not wish for the present to consider drearas which 
call for searching analysis and interpretation. 

The point is that there are neuroses whose actual origins we 
discover only at the very end of an analysis, and there are also 
cases in which it is of no benefit to have discovered the origin of 
the neurosis. This brings me back to the Freudian view, men- 
tioned above, that for the purposes of therapy it is necessary for 
the patient to become conscious of the causal factors in his dis- 
turbance a view that is little more than a survival of the old 
theory of the trauma. I do not, of course, deny that many neu- 
roses have a traumatic origin; I simply contest the notion that all 
neuroses are of this nature and arise without exception from some 
crucial experience of childhood. This view of the question results 
in a causalistic approach. The doctor must give his whole atten- 

164 C. G. Jung 

lion to the patient's past; he must always ask: "Why?" and neglect 
the equally pertinent question: "What for?" This is frequently 
very harmful to the patient, for he is forced to search in his 
memory perhaps over a course of years for a hypothetical 
event in his childhood, while things of immediate importance are 
grossly neglected. A purely causalistic approach is too narrow to 
do justice to the true significance, either of the dream, or of the 
neurosis. A person is biassed who turns to dreams for the sole 
purpose of discovering the hidden cause of the neurosis, for he 
leaves aside the larger part of the dream's actual contribution. 
The dreams I have cited unmistakably present the setiological 
factors in the neurosis; but it is clear that they also offer a prog- 
nosis or anticipation of the future and a suggestion as to the 
course of treatment as well. We must furthermore bear in mind 
that a great many dreams do not touch upon the causes of the 
neurosis, but treat of quite different matters among others, of 
the patient's attitude to the doctor. I should like to illustrate this 
by recounting three dreams of the same patient. She consulted 
three different analysts in turn, and at the beginning of each treat- 
ment she had one of these dreams. 

Here is the first: "I must cross the frontier into the next coun- 
try, but no one can tell me where the boundary lies, and I can- 
not find it." The treatment which followed this dream was 
unsuccessful, and was soon broken off. 

The second dream is as follows: "I must cross the frontier. 
It is a black night, and I cannot find the customhouse. After a 
long search I notice a small light far away and suppose that the 
frontier lies over there. But in order to reach it, I must cross a 
valley and pass through a dark wood, in which I lose my sense 
of direction. Then I notice that someone is with me. This per- 
son suddenly clings to me like a madman and I awake in terror." 
That treatment also was discontinued after a few weeks, the 
reason being that the patient was completely disoriented by the 
analyst's unconscious identification with her. 

The third dream took place when the patient came into my 
hands. It runs: "I must cross a frontier, or rather, I have already 
crossed it, and find myself in a Swiss customhouse. I have only a 
handbag with me, and believe that I have nothing to declare. But 

Dream. Analysis in Its Practical Application 165 

the customs official dives into my bag and, to my astonishment, 
pulls out two full-sized mattresses." The patient married during 
the course of her treatment with me, but not without a violent 
resistance to this step. The cause of her neurotic resistance came 
to light only after many months, and there is not a hint of it 
anywhere in these dreams. They are without exception anticipa- 
tions of the difficulties she is to have with the analysts to whom 
she has come for treatment. 

I could cite many other dreams to the same effect, but these 
may suffice to show that dreams can be anticipatory and, in that 
case, must lose their particular meaning if they are treated in a 
purely causalistic way. These three dreams give clear information 
about the analytical situation, and it is extremely important for 
the purposes of therapy that this be rightly understood. The first 
doctor understood the situation and sent the patient to the second. 
Here she drew her own conclusions from her dream, and decided 
to leave. My interpretation of her third dream disappointed her 
greatly, but she was distinctly encouraged to go on in spite of all 
difficulties by the fact that it reported the frontier already crossed. 

Initial dreams are often amazingly transparent and clear-cut. 
But as the work of analysis progresses, the dreams in a little while 
cease to be clear. If they should prove exceptional, and keep their 
clarity, we can be sure that the analysis has as yet not touched 
some important part of the personality. As a rule, the dreams 
become less transparent, and more blurred, shortly after the 
beginning of the treatment. It becomes increasingly difficult to 
interpret them, a further reason for this being that a point may 
soon be reached where the doctor is unable, if the truth be told, 
to understand the situation as a whole. This is how the matter 
really stands, for to say that the dreams are unintelligible is a 
mere reflection of the doctor's subjective opinion. Nothing is 
unclear to the understanding; it is only when we fail to under- 
stand that things appear unintelligible and confused. In them- 
selves, dreams are clear that is, they are just as they must be 
under the given conditions. If we look back at these "unintel- 
ligible" dreams from a later stage of the treatment or from a 
distance of some years, we are often astounded at our own blind- 
ness. It is a fact that, as an analysis progresses, we come upon 

166 C. G. Jung 

dreams that are strikingly obscure in comparison with the ini- 
tial dreams. But the doctor should not be too sure that the later 
dreams are really confused, or be too hasty in accusing the pa- 
tient of deliberate resistance. He would do better to take the fact 
as an indication of his own growing inability to understand the 
situation. The psychiatrist likewise is prone to call a patient "con- 
fused" when he would do well to recognize the projection and 
admit his own confusion, for it is really his understanding that 
grows confused in face of the patient's strange behaviour. For 
the purposes of therapy, moreover, it is highly important for the 
analyst to admit his lack of understanding from time to time, for 
nothing is more unbearable for the patient than to be always un- 
derstood. The latter in any case relies too much upon the mysteri- 
ous insight of the doctor, and, by appealing to his professional 
vanity, lays a dangerous trap for him. By taking refuge in the 
doctor's self-confidence and "profound" understanding, the pa- 
tient loses all sense of reality, falls into a stubborn transference, 
and retards the cure. 

Understanding is clearly a subjective process. It may be very 
one-sided, in that the physician understands while the patient does 
not. In such a case the doctor sometimes feels it his duty to con- 
vince the patient, and if the latter will not allow himself to be con- 
vinced, the doctor accuses him of resistance* When the under- 
standing is all on my side, I find it advisable to stress my lack of 
understanding. It is relatively unimportant whether the doctor 
understands or not, but everything hangs on the patient's doing 
so. What is really needed is a mutual agreement which is the fruit 
of joint reflection. It is one-sided, and therefore dangerous, under- 
standing for the doctor to prejudge the dream from the stand- 
point of a certain doctrine and to make a pronouncement which 
may be theoretically sound, but does not win the patient's assent. 
In so far as the pronouncement fails in this respect, it is incor- 
rect in the practical sense; and it may also be incorrect in the 
sense that it anticipates and thereby cripples the actual develop- 
ment of the patient. We appeal only to the patient's brain if we 
try to inculcate a truth; but if we help him to grow up to this 
truth in the course of his own development, we have reached his 

Dream Analysis in Its Practical Application 167 

heart, and this appeal goes deeper and acts with greater force. 

When the doctor's interpretation is based merely upon a one- 
sided theory or a preconceived opinion, his chances of convincing 
the patient or of achieving any therapeutic results depend chiefly 
upon suggestion. And let no one deceive himself as to the effects 
of suggestion. In itself suggestion is not to be despised, but it 
has serious limitations, and reacts upon the patient's independ- 
ence of character in a very undesirable way. A practising analyst 
may be supposed to believe in the significance and value of the 
widening of consciousness I mean by this the procedure of 
bringing to light the parts of the personality which were previ- 
ously unconscious and subjecting them to conscious discrimina- 
tion and criticism. It is an undertaking which requires the patient 
to face his problems, and taxes his powers of conscious judgment 
and decision. It is nothing less than a challenge to the ethical 
sense, a call to arms that must be answered by the whole per- 
sonality. Therefore, with respect to personal development, the 
analytical approach is of a higher order than methods of treat- 
ment based upon suggestion. This is a kind of magic that works 
in the dark and makes no ethical demands upon the personality. 
Methods of treatment based upon suggestion are deceptive make- 
shifts; they are incompatible with the principles of analytical 
therapy, and should be avoided. But suggestion can of course 
be avoided only when the doctor is aware of the many doors 
through which it can enter. There remains in the best of circum- 
stances enough and more than enough unconscious sugges- 

The analyst who wishes to rule out conscious suggestion must 
consider any dream interpretation invalid that does not win the 
assent of the patient, and he must search until he finds a formu- 
lation that does. This is a rule which, I believe, must always be 
observed, especially in dealing with those dreams whose obscurity 
is evidence of lack of understanding on the part of the doctor as 
well as of the patient. The doctor should regard every dream as a 
new departure as a source of information about unknown con- 
ditions concerning which he has as much to learn as the patient. 
It goes without saying that he should hold no preconceived 

168 C. G. Jung 

opinions based upon a particular theory, but stand ready in every 
single case to construct a totally new theory of dreams. There is 
still a boundless opportunity for pioneer-work in this field. 

The view that dreams are merely imaginary fulfilments of sup- 
pressed wishes has long ago been superseded. It is certainly true 
that there are dreams which embody suppressed wishes and fears, 
but what is there which the dream cannot on occasion embody? 
Dreams may give expression to ineluctable truths, to philosoph- 
ical pronouncements, illusions, wild fantasies, memories, plans, 
anticipations, irrational experiences, even telepathic visions, 
and heaven knows what besides. One thing we ought never to 
forget: almost the half of our lives is passed in a more or less 
unconscious state. The dream is specifically the utterance of the 
unconscious. We may call consciousness the daylight realm of 
the human psyche, and contrast it with the nocturnal realm of 
unconscious psychic activity which we apprehend as dreamlike 
fantasy. It is certain that consciousness consists not only of wishes 
and fears, but of vastly more than these, and it is highly probable 
that the unconscious psyche contains a wealth of contents and 
living forms equal to or even greater than does consciousness, 
which is characterized by concentration, limitation and exclusion. 

This being the state of affairs, it is imperative that we should 
not pare down the meaning of a dream to fit some narrow doc- 
trine. We must remember that there are not a few patients who 
imitate the technical or theoretical jargon of the doctor, and do 
this even in their dreams. No language exists that cannot be mis- 
used. It is hard to realize how badly we are fooled by the abuse 
of ideas; it even seems as if the unconscious had a way of stran- 
gling the physician in the coils of his own theory. All this being 
so, I leave theory aside as much as possible in analysing dreams. 
We cannot, of course, dispense with theory entirely, for it is 
needed to make things intelligible. It is on the basis of theory, 
for instance, that I expect dreams to have a meaning. I cannot 
prove in every case that dreams are meaningful, for there are 
dreams that neither doctor nor patient understands. But I must re- 
gard them as hypothetically meaningful in order to find courage 
to deal with them at all. To say that dreams contribute in an 
important way to conscious knowledge, and that a dream which 

Dream Analysis in Its Practical Application 169 

fails to do so Is a dream which has not been properly interpreted 
--this, too, is a theoretical statement. But I must adopt this 
hypothesis in order to make it clear to myself why I analyse 
dreams. On the other hand, every hypothesis about the nature of 
the dream, its function and structure, is merely a rule of thumb 
and must be subject to constant modifications. We must never 
forget in dream-analysis, even for a moment, that we move on* 
treacherous ground where nothing is certain but uncertainty. A 
suitable warning to the dream-interpreter if only it were not 
so paradoxical would be: "Do anything you like, only don't 
try to understand!'* 

When we take up an obscure dream, our first task is not to 
understand and interpret it, but to establish the context with 
minute care. What I have in mind is not a boundless sweep of 
"free associations" starting from any and every image in the 
dream, but a careful and conscious illumination of those chains 
of association that are directly connected with particular images. 
Many patients have first to be educated to this task, for they 
resemble the doctor in their urgent desire to understand and to 
interpret offhand. This is particularly the case when they have 
already been educated or rather, miseducated by their read- 
ing or by a previous analysis that went wrong. They give associ- 
ations in accordance with a theory; that is, they try to under- 
stand and interpret, and thus they nearly always get stuck. Like 
the doctor, they wish at once to get behind the dream in the 
false belief that it is a mere facade concealing the true meaning. 
Perhaps we may call the dream a facade, but we must remember 
that the fronts of most houses by no means trick or deceive us,, 
but, on the contrary, follow the plan of the building and oftem 
betray its inner arrangement. The "manifest" dream-picture is the 
dream itself, and contains the "latent" meaning. If I find sugar 
in the urine, it is sugar, and not a fagade that conceals albumen. 
When Freud speaks of the "dream-fagade," he is really speak- 
ing, not of the dream itself, but of its obscurity, and in so> 
doing is projecting upon the dream his own lack of understand- 
ing. We say that the dream has a false front only because we 
fail to see into it. We would do better to say that we are deal- 
ing with something like a text that is unintelligible, not because it 

170 C. G. Jung 

has a fagade, but simply because we cannot read it. We do not 
have to get behind such a text in the first place, but must learn 
to read it. 

We shall best succeed in reading dreams by establishing their 
context, as already remarked. We shall not succeed with the 
help of free associations, any more than we could use that 
means to decipher a Hittite inscription. Free associations will 
help me to uncover all my own complexes, but for this purpose 
I need not start from the dream I might as well take a sentence 
in a newspaper or a "Keep out" sign. If we associate freely to 
a dream, our complexes will turn up right enough, but we shall 
hardly ever discover the meaning of the dream. To do this, we 
must keep as close as possible to the dream-images themselves. 
When a person has dreamed of a deal table, little is accomplished 
by his associating it with his writing-desk which is not made of 
deal. The dream refers expressly to a deal table. If at this point 
nothing occurs to the dreamer his hesitation signifies that a 
particular darkness surrounds the dream-image, and this is 
suspicious. We would expect him to have dozens of associations 
to a deal table, and when he cannot find a single one, this must 
have a meaning. In such cases we should return again and again 
to the image. I say to my patients: "Suppose I had no idea what 
the words 'deal table' mean. Describe this object and give me 
its history in such a way that I cannot fail to understand what 
sort of thing it is." We succeed in this way in establishing a good 
part of the context of that particular dream-image. When we 
have done this for all the images in the dream, we are ready for 
the venture of interpretation. 

Every interpretation is hypothetical, for it is a mere attempt 
to read an unfamiliar text. An obscure dream, taken by itself 
can rarely be interpreted with any certainty, so that I attach little 
importance to the interpretation of single dreams. With a series 
of dreams we can have more confidence in our interpretations, 
for the later dreams correct the mistakes we have made in 
handling those that went before. We are also better able, in a 
dream series, to recognize the important contents and basic 
themes, and I therefore urge my patients to make a careful 
record of their dreams and the interpretations given them. I also 

Dream Analysis in Its Practical Application 171 

show them how to work up their dreams in the way I have 
just indicated, so that they can bring me in writing the dream 
and the material that forms the context of the dream. In later 
stages of analysis I let them work out the interpretations as 
well. The patient learns in this way how to consult the uncon- 
scious without the doctor's help. 

If dreams did nothing more than inform us about the causal 
factors in a neurosis, we could safely let the doctor handle them 
alone. My way of dealing with them, moreover, would be quite 
superfluous if all that we could expect of them were a collection 
of hints and insights helpful to the doctor. But since it is probable, 
as I have shown in a few examples, that dreams contain more 
than practical helps for the doctor, dream-analysis deserves very 
special consideration. Sometimes, indeed, it is a matter of life 
and death. 

Among many cases of this sort, I have been especially im- 
pressed with one that concerned a colleague of mine in Zurich. 
He was a man somewhat older than myself whom I saw from 
time to time, and who always teased me on these occasions about 
iny interest in dream-interpretation. I met him one day in the 
street, and he called out to me: "How are things going? Are 
you still interpreting dreams? By the way, I've had another 
idiotic dream. Does it mean something too?" He had dreamed 
as follows: "1 am climbing a high mountain over steep, snow- 
covered slopes. I mount higher and higher it is marvellous 
weather. The higher I climb, the better I feel. I think: 'If only I 
could go on climbing like this for ever!' When I reach the sum- 
mit, my happiness and elation are so strong that I feel I could 
mount right up into space. And I discover that I actually can 
do this. I go on climbing on empty air. I awake in a real ecstasy." 
When he had told me his dream, I said: "My dear man, I know 
you can't give up mountaineering, but let me implore you not 
to go alone from now on. When you go, take two guides, and 
you must promise on your word of honour to follow their direc- 
tions." "Incorrigible!" he replied laughing, and said good-bye. I 
never saw him again. Two months later came the first blow. 
When out alone, he was buried by an avalanche, but was dug out 
in the nick of time by a military patrol which happened to come 

172 C. (?. Jung 

along. Three months after this the end came. He went on a climb 
accompanied by a younger friend, but without guides. An alpinist 
standing below saw him literally step out into the air as he was 
letting himself down a rock wall. He fell on to the head of 
tiis friend, who was waiting beneath him, and both were dashed 
to pieces far below. That was ecstasis in the full meaning of 
the word. 

No amount of scepticism and critical reserve has ever enabled 
me to regard dreams as negligible occurrences. Often enough 
they appear senseless, but it is obviously we who lack the sense 
and the ingenuity to read the enigmatical message from the 
nocturnal realm of the psyche. When we see that at least a 
half of man's life is passed in this realm, that consciousness has 
its roots there, and that the unconscious operates in and out of 
waking existence, it would seem incumbent upon medical psy- 
chology to sharpen its perceptions by a systematic study of 
dreams. No one doubts the importance of conscious experience; 
why then should we question the importance of unconscious hap- 
penings? They also belong to human life, and they are sometimes 
more truly a part of it for weal or woe than any events of the 

Dreams give information about the secrets of the inner life 
and reveal to the dreamer hidden factors of his personality. As 
long as these are undiscovered, they disturb his waking life 
and betray themselves only in the form of symptoms. This 
means that we cannot effectively treat the patient from the side 
of consciousness alone, but must bring about a change in and 
-through the unconscious. As far as present knowledge goes, 
rfhere is only one way of doing this: there must be a thorough- 
going, conscious assimilation of unconscious contents. By "as- 
similation," I mean a mutual interpenetration of conscious and 
unconscious contents, and not as is too commonly thought a 
one-sided valuation, interpretation and deformation of uncon- 
scious contents by the conscious mind. As to the value and 
significance of unconscious contents in general, very mistaken 
views are abroad. It is well known that the Freudian school pre- 
sents the unconscious in a thoroughly depreciatory light, just as 
also it looks on primitive man as little better than a wild beast. 

Dream Analysis in Its Practical Application 173 

Its nursery-tales about the terrible old man of the tribe and its 
teachings about the "infantile-perverse-criminal" unconscious 
have led people to make a dangerous monster out of the un- 
conscious, that really very natural thing. As if all that is good, 
reasonable, beautiful and worth living for had taken up its abode 
in consciousness! Have the horrors of the World War really 
not opened our eyes? Are we still unable to see that man's 
conscious mind is even more devilish and perverse than the 

I was recently reproached with the charge that my teaching 
about the assimilation of the unconscious, were it accepted, 
would undermine culture and exalt primitivity at the cost of 
our highest values. Such an opinion can have no foundation 
other than the erroneous belief that the unconscious is a monster. 
Such a view arises from fear of nature and of life as it actually is. 
Freud has invented the idea of sublimation to save us from the 
imaginary claws of the unconscious. But what actually exists 
cannot be alchemistically sublimated, and if anything is appar- 
ently sublimated, it never was what a false interpretation took 
it to be. 

The unconscious is not a demonic monster, but a thing of 
nature that is perfectly neutral as far as moral sense, aesthetic 
taste and intellectual judgement go. It is dangerous only when 
our conscious attitude towards it becomes hopelessly false. And 
this danger grows in the measure that we practise repressions. But 
as soon as the patient begins to assimilate the contents that were 
previously unconscious, the danger from the side of the uncon- 
scious diminishes. As the process of assimilation goes on, it puts 
an end to the dissociation of the personality and to the anxiety 
that attends and inspires the separation of the two realms of the 
psyche. That which my critic feared I mean the overwhelming 
of consciousness by the unconscious is most likely to occur 
when the unconscious is excluded from life by repressions, or 
is misunderstood and depreciated. 

A fundamental mistake, and one which is commonly made, 
is this: it is supposed that the contents of the unconscious are 
unequivocal and are marked with plus or minus signs that are 
immutable. As I see the question, this view is too naive. The 

174 C. G. Jung 

psyche is a self-regulating system that maintains itself in equi- 
librium as the body does. Every process that goes too far im- 
mediately and inevitably calls forth a compensatory activity. 
Without such adjustments a normal metabolism would not exist, 
nor would the normal psyche. We can take the idea of com- 
pensation, so understood, as a law of psychic happening. Too 
little on one side results in too much on the other. The relation 
between conscious and unconscious is compensatory. This fact, 
which is easily verifiable, affords a rule for dream interpretation. 
It is always helpful, when we set out to interpret a dream, to ask; 
What conscious attitude does it compensate? 

Although compensation may take the form of imaginary wish- 
fulfilment, it generally presents itself as an actuality which be- 
comes the more strikingly actual the more we try to repress 
it. We know that we do not conquer thirst by repressing it. The 
dream-content is to be taken in all seriousness as something thai 
has actually happened to us; it should be treated as a contributory 
factor in framing our conscious outlook. If we do not do this, we 
shall keep that one-sided, conscious attitude which evoked the 
unconscious compensation in the first place. But this way holds 
little hope of our ever judging ourselves correctly or finding 
any balance in life. 

If anyone should set out to replace his conscious outlook by 
the dictates of the unconscious and this is the prospect which 
my critics find so alarming he would only succeed in repress- 
ing the former, and it would reappear as an unconscious com- 
pensation. The unconscious would thus have changed its face 
and completely reversed its position. It would have become 
timidly reasonable, in striking contrast to its former tone. It is 
not generally believed that the unconscious operates in this way, 
yet such reversals constantly take place and constitute its essen- 
tial function. This is why every dream is a source of information 
and a means of self-regulation, and why dreams are our most 
effective aids in the task of building up the personality. 

The unconscious itself does not harbour explosive materials, 
but it may become explosive owing to the repressions exercised by 
a self-sufficient, or cowardly, conscious outlook. All the more 
reason, then, for giving heed to that side! It should now be clear 

Dream Analysis in Its Practical Application 175 

why I have made it a practical rule always to ask, before trying 
to interpret a dream: What conscious attitude does it compen- 
sate? As may be seen, I thus bring the dream into the closest 
possible connection with the conscious state. I even maintain 
that it is impossible to interpret a dream with any degree of 
certainty unless we know what the conscious situation is. For it is 
only in the light of this knowledge that we can make out whether 
the unconscious content carries a plus or minus sign. The dream 
is not an isolated psychic event completely cut off from daily 
life. If it seems so to us, that is only an illusion that arises from 
our lack of understanding. In reality, the relation between con- 
sciousness and the dream is strictly causal, and they interact in 
the subtlest of ways. 

I should like to show with the help of an illustration how 
important it is to find the true value of unconscious contents. 
A young man brought me the following dream: "My father is 
driving away from the house in his new car. He drives very 
clumsily, and I get very excited about his apparent stupidity. 
He goes this way and that, forward and backward, repeatedly 
getting the car into a tight place. Finally he runs into a wall and 
badly damages the car. I shout at him in a perfect rage, telling 
him he ought to behave himself. My father only laughs, and then 
I see that he is dead drunk." There is no foundation in fact for 
the dream. The dreamer is convinced that his father would never 
behave in that way, even if he were drunk. The dreamer him- 
self is used to cars; he is a careful driver, and very moderate 
in the use of alcohol, especially when he has to drive. Bad driving, 
and even slight injuries to the car, irritate him greatly. The son's 
relation to his father is good. He admires him for being an 
unusually successful man. We can say, without any attempt at 
interpretation, that the dream presents a very unfavorable pic- 
ture of the father. What, then, should we take its meaning to 
be as far as the son is concerned? Is his relation to his father 
good only in appearance, and does it really consist of over- 
compensated resistances? If this is so we should attribute a plus 
sign to the dream-content; we should have to tell the young 
man: "This is your actual relation to your father." But since 
I could find nothing equivocal or neurotic in the facts about 

176 C. G. Jung 

the son's relation to his father, I had no warrant for disturbing 
the young man's feelings with such a destructive pronounce- 
ment. To do so would have prejudiced the outcome of the treat- 

But if his relation to his father is really excellent, why must 
the dream manufacture such an improbable story to discredit 
the father? The dreamer's unconscious must have a distinct 
tendency to produce such a dream. Has the young man resistances 
to his father, after all, which are perhaps fed by jealousy or a 
certain sense of inferiority? But before we go out of our way 
to burden his conscience and with sensitive young people there 
is always the risk that we do this too lightly we had better, 
for once, drop the question of why he had this dream, and 
ask ourselves instead: What for? The answer, in this case, would 
be that his unconscious clearly tries to depreciate his father. 
If we take this as a compensation, we are forced to the con- 
clusion that his relation to his father is not only good, but even 
too good. The younger man actually deserves the French so- 
briquet of fils & papa. His father is still too much the guarantor 
of his existence, and he is still living what I call a provisional 
life. He runs the risk of failing to realize himself because there 
is too much "father" on every side. This is why the unconscious 
manufactures a kind of blasphemy: it seeks to lower the father 
and to elevate the son. "An immoral business," we may be 
tempted to say. Every father who lacks insight would be on 
his guard here. And yet this compensation is entirely to the 
point. It forces the son to contrast himself with his father, and 
that is the only way in which he can become aware of himself. 

The interpretation just outlined was apparently the correct 
one, for it struck home. It won the spontaneous assent of the 
young man, and did no violence to his feeling for his father, 
or to the father's feeling for him. But this interpretation was 
only possible when the father-son relation had been studied in 
the light of all the facts that were accessible to consciousness. 
Without a knowledge of the conscious situation the true mean- 
ing of the dream would have remained in doubt. 

It is of the first importance for the assimilation of dream- 
contents that no violence be done to the real values of the 

Dream Analysis in Its Practical Application 177 

conscious personality. If the conscious personality is destroyed, 
or even crippled, there is no one left to do the assimilating. 
When we recognize the importance of the unconscious we are 
not embarking upon a Bolshevist experiment which puts the low- 
est on top. This would only bring about a return of the situation 
we are trying to correct. We must see to it that the conscious 
personality remains intact, for we can only turn the unconscious 
compensations to good account when the conscious personality 
co-operates in the venture. When it conies to the assimilation of 
a content it is never a question of "this or that," but of "this 
and that." 

Just as the interpretation of dreams requires exact knowledge 
of the conscious status quo, so the treatment of dream symbolism 
demands that we take into account the dreamer's philosophical, 
religious and moral convictions. It is far wiser in practice not to 
regard the dream-symbols as signs or symptoms of a fixed char- 
acter. We should rather take them as true symbols that is to 
say, as expressions of something not yet consciously recognized 
or conceptually formulated. In addition to this, they must be 
considered in relation to the dreamer's immediate state of con- 
sciousness. I emphasize that this way of treating the dream- 
symbols is advisable in practice because theoretically there do 
exist relatively fixed symbols whose meaning must on no account 
be referred to anything whose content is known, or to anything 
that can be formulated in concepts. If there were no relatively 
fixed symbols, it would be impossible to determine the structure 
of the unconscious. There would be nothing in it which could be 
in any way laid hold of or described. 

It may seem strange that I should attribute an indefinite con- 
tent to the relatively fixed symbols. But it is the indefinite content 
that marks the symbol as against the mere sign or symptom. It 
is well known that the Freudian school operates with hard and 
fast sexual "symbols"; but these are just what I should call signs, 
for they are made to stand for sexuality, and this is supposed 
to be something definitive. As a matter of fact, Freud's concept 
of sexuality is thoroughly elastic, and so vague that it can be 
made to include almost anything. The word itself is familiar, 
but what it denotes amounts to an indeterminable or variable * 

178 C- G. Jung 

that stands for the physiological activity of the glands at one 
extreme and the highest reaches of the spirit at the other. Instead 
of taking a dogmatic stand that rests upon the illusion that we 
know something because we have a familiar word for it, I prefer 
to regard the symbol as the announcement of something un- 
known, hard to recognize and not to be fully determined. Take, 
for instance, the so-called phallic symbols, which are supposed 
to stand for the membrum virile and nothing more. Psychologi- 
cally speaking, the membrum is itself as Kranefeldt has recently 
pointed out a symbolic image whose wider content cannot easily 
be determined. As was customary throughout antiquity, primitive 
people today make a free use of phallic symbols, yet it never 
occurs to them to confuse the phallus, as a ritualistic symbol, 
with the penis. They always take the phallus to mean the creative 
mana, the power of healing and fertility, "that which is un- 
usually potent," to use Lehmann's expression. Its equivalents in 
mythology and in dreams are the bull, the ass, the pomegranate, 
the yoni, the he-goat, the lightning, the horse's hoof, the dance, 
the magical cohabitation in the furrow, and the menstrual fluid, 
to mention only a few of many. That which underlies all of these 
images and sexuality itself is an archetypal content that is 
hard to grasp, and that finds its best psychological expression in 
the primitive mana symbol. In each of the images given above 
we can see a relatively fixed symbol i.e. the mana symbol 
but we cannot for all that be certain that when they occur in 
dreams they have no other meaning. 

The practical need may call for quite another interpretation. 
To be sure, if we had to interpret dreams in an exhaustive way 
according to scientific principles, we should have to refer ever> 
such symbol to an archetype. But, in practice, this kind of 
interpretation might be a grave blunder, for the patient's psy- 
chological state may require anything rather than the giving 
of attention to a theory of dreams. It is therefore advisable, for 
the purposes of therapy, to look for the meaning of symbols as 
they relate to the conscious situation in other words, to treat 
them as if they were not fixed. This is as much as to say that we 
must renounce all preconceived opinions, however knowing they 
make us feel, and try to discover the meaning of things for the 

Dream Analysis in Its Practical Application 179 

patient. If we do this, our interpretations will obviously not go 
very far towards satisfying a theory of dreams; in fact, they may 
fall very short in this respect. But if the practitioner operates too 
much with fixed symbols, there is danger of his falling into mere 
routine and dogmatism, thus failing to meet the patient's need. 
It is unfortunate that, to illustrate the above, I should have to 
go into greater detail than space here permits, but I have else- 
where published illustrative material that amply supports my 

As already remarked, it frequently happens at the very be- 
ginning of a treatment, that a dream reveals to the doctor, in 
a wide perspective, the general direction in which the uncon- 
scious is moving. But, for practical reasons, it may not be 
feasible to make clear to the patient, at this early stage, the 
deeper meaning of his dream. The demands of therapy are 
binding upon us in this way also. When the doctor gains such 
a far-reaching insight, it is thanks to his experience in the 
matter of relatively fixed symbols. Such insight can be of the 
very greatest value in diagnosis and in prognosis as well. I was 
once consulted in the case of a seventeen-year-old girl. One spe- 
cialist had suggested that she might be in the first stages of 
progressive atrophy of the muscles, while another thought that 
she was a hysteric. Because of this second opinion, I was called 
in. The clinical picture made me suspect an organic disease, but 
the girl showed traits of hysteria as well. I asked for dreams. 
The patient answered at once: "Yes, I have terrible dreams. 
Just recently I dreamed I was coming home at night. Every- 
thing is as quiet as death. The door into the living-room is 
half open, and I see my mother hanging from the chandelier 
and swinging to and fro in a cold wind that blows in through 
the open windows. At another time I dreamed that a terrible 
noise breaks out in the house at night. I go to see what has 
happened, and find that a frightened horse is tearing through 
the rooms. At last it finds the door into the hall, and jumps 
through the hall window from the fourth floor down into the 
street I was terrified to see it lying below, all mangled." 

The way in which these dreams allude to death is enough to 
give one pause. But many persons have anxiety dreams nov- 

180 C. G. Jung 

and then. We must therefore look more closely into the mean- 
ing of the outstanding symbols, "mother" and "horse." These 
figures must be equivalent one to the other, for they both do 
the same thing: they commit suicide. The mother symbol is 
archetypal and refers to a place of origin, to nature, that which 
passively creates, hence to substance and matter, to material 
nature, the lower body (womb) and the vegetative functions. 
It connotes also the unconscious, natural and instinctive life, 
ihe physiological realm, the body in which we dwell or are 
contained, for the "mother" is also a vessel, the hollow form 
(uterus') that carries and nourishes, and it thus stands for the 
foundations of consciousness. Being within something or con- 
tained in something suggests darkness, the nocturnal a state 
of anxiety. With these allusions I am presenting the idea of the 
mother in many of its mythological and etymological transfor- 
mations; I am also giving an important part of the yin concept 
of Chinese philosophy. All this is dream-content, but it is not 
something which the seventeen-year-old girl has acquired in her 
individual existence; it is rather a bequest from the past. On the 
one hand it has been kept alive by the language, and on the 
other hand it is inherited with the structure of the psyche and 
is therefore to be found in all times and among all peoples. 

The familiar word "mother" refers apparently to the best- 
known of mothers in particular to "my mother." But the mother 
symbol points to a darker meaning which eludes conceptual 
formulation and can only be vaguely apprehended as the hidden, 
nature-bound life of the body. Yet even this expression is too 
narrow, and excludes too many pertinent side-meanings. The 
psychic reality which underlies this symbol is so inconceivably 
complex that we can only discern it from afar off, and then but 
very dimly. It is such realities that call for symbolic expression. 

If we apply our findings to the dream, its meaning will be: 
the unconscious life destroys itself. That is the dream's message 
:o the conscious mind of the dreamer and to everyone who has 
;ars to hear. 

"Horse" is an archetype that is widely current in mythology 
and folk-lore. As an animal it represents the non-human psyche, 

Dream Analysis in Its Practical Application 18! 

the sub-human, animal side, and therefore the unconscious. This 
is why the horse in folk-lore sometimes sees visions, hears voices, 
and speaks. As a beast of burden it is closely related to the 
mother-archetype; the Valkyries bear the dead hero to Valhalla 
and the Trojan horse encloses the Greeks. As an animal lower 
than man it represents the lower part of the body and the 
animal drives that take their rise from there. The horse is dy- 
namic power and a means of locomotion; it carries one away 
like a surge of instinct. It is subject to panics like all instinctive 
creatures who lack higher consciousness. Also it has to do with 
sorcery and magical spells especially the black, night horse 
which heralds death. 

It is evident, then, that "horse" is the equivalent of "mother" 
with a slight shift of meaning. The mother stands for life at its 
origin, and the horse for the merely animal life of the body. If 
we apply this meaning to the dream, it says: the animal life 
destroys itself. 

The two dreams make nearly the same assertion, but, as is 
usually the case, the second is more specific. The peculiar 
subtlety of the dream is brought out in both instances: there 
is no mention of the death of the individual. It is notorious 
that one often dreams of one's own death, but that is no serious 
matter. When it is really a question of death, the dream speaks 
another language. Both of these dreams, then, point to a serious, 
and even fatal, organic disease. The prognosis was shortly after 
borne out in fact. 

As for the relatively fixed symbols, this example gives a fair 
idea of their general nature. There are a great many of them, 
and they may differ in individual cases by subtle shifts of 
meaning. It is only through comparative studies in mythology, 
folk-lore, religion and language that we can determine these 
symbols in a scientific way. The evolutionary stages through 
which the human psyche has passed are more clearly discernible 
in the dream than in consciousness. The dream speaks in images, 
and gives expression to instincts, that are derived from the most 
primitive levels of nature. Consciousness all too easily departs 
from the law of nature; but it can be brought again into harmony 

182 C. G. Jung 

with the latter by the assimilation of unconscious contents. By 
fostering this process we lead the patient to the rediscovery of 
the law of his own being. 

I have not been able, in so short a space, to deal with any- 
thing hut the elements of the subject, I could not put together, 
before your eyes, stone by stone, the edifice that is reared in 
every analysis from the materials of the unconscious and finds 
its completion in the restoration of the total personality. The way 
of successive assimilations reaches far beyond the curative re- 
sults that specifically concern the doctor. It leads in the end 
to that distant goal (which may perhaps have been the first 
urge to life), the bringing into reality of the whole human being 

that is, individuation. We physicians are without doubt the 

first scientific observers of these obscure processes of nature. 
As a rule we see only a pathological phase of the development, 
and lose sight of the patient as soon as he is cured. But it 
is only when the cure has been effected that we are in a position 
to study the normal process of change, itself a matter of years 
or decades. If we had some knowledge of the ends towards 
which unconscious, psychic growth is tending, and if our psy- 
chological insight were not drawn exclusively from the pathologi- 
cal phase, we should have a less confused idea of the processes 
revealed by dreams and a clearer recognition of what it is that 
the symbols point to. In my opinion, every doctor should be 
aware of the fact that psychotherapy in general, and analysis in 
particular, is a procedure that breaks into a purposeful and 
continuous development, now here and now there, and thus 
singles out particular phases which may seem to follow oppos- 
ing courses. Since every analysis by itself shows only one part 
or aspect of the deeper course of development, nothing but 
hopeless confusion can result from casuistic comparisons. For 
this reason I have preferred to confine myself to the rudiments 
of the subject and to practical considerations. It is only in actual 
contact with the facts as they occur that we can come to anything 
like a satisfactory agreement. 


One of the most far-reaching consequences of Freud's work 
has been to focus attention on the psychic forces in the develop- 
ment of the child and to modify the nature of child rearing. 
His conclusions concerning childhood sexuality and the role the 
parents play in its normal or aberrant development were revolu- 
tionary. However, he provided what many feel to be a rather 
limited view of parent-child relationships. He saw parent-child 
difficulties as arising through conflicts centered about libidinal 
development and hence did not take into account sufficiently 
the myriad of other influences in the parent-child relationship, 
notably the presence or absence of love and anxiety in the parent. 
That the mother-child relationship is one of dynamic interaction 
is shown in the paper by Benedek, who also shows the correlation 
between the emotional and hormonal states of the mother. 

Freud believed that the amnesia for childhood experiences 
arose because of the need to repress the memory of early sexual 
impulses. The paper by Schachtel suggests another theory, one 
which much more plausibly explains why the amnesia is not 
limited to sexual material. But whichever theory one uses to 
explain the infantile amnesia, it is clear that retrospective recon- 
struction from adult material has great possibilities for error, 
as Freud discovered, since it may be difficult to differentiate be- 
tween fantasy and fact. As a consequence of these difficulties, 
observation of child play as though it were free association has 
been developed as a fruitful method for gathering data and is 
widely used in child therapy. The paper by Erikson concerns it" 
self with this subject. 

On the basis of the libido theory, Freud concluded that the 
crucial period in the child-parent relationship was the first five 
to eight years, and that little of determining significance was 
likely to occur after that period. On the basis of an interpersonal 
theory in which sex is held to be only one factor, though an 


184 Childhood 

important one, in childhood development, Sullivan emphasizes 
two vital conceptions: the effects of the whole field of interper- 
sonal r elatedness and the malleability of the personality both for 
constructive and non-constructive development through adoles- 



The Psychosomatic Implications of 
the Primary Unit: Mother-Child* 

In the recent literature, several observations have been published 
demonstrating that the child, by some not clearly defined psychic 
process, incorporates the emotional attitudes of the mother, em- 
bodies her anxiety, and develops symptoms which the mother 
used to have or might have had. 1 The motivations which play a 
role in the presenting symptom of the child also exist in the 
mother and can be elicited by analysis. The dynamics of such 
preconscious or unconscious communication between mother and 
child may be clarified by a better understanding of the psychobio- 
logical factors which motivate motherhood and motherliness. 

This discussion deals with the psychodynamics of the symbio- 
sis which exists during pregnancy, is interrupted at birth, but 
remains a functioning force, directing and motivating the mental 
and somatic interaction between mother and child. 

As long as gratification of the emotional need for motherhood 
was fulfilled without interference by human controls, one rarely 

* Reprinted by permission from Psychosexual Functions in Women (New 
York, 1952). Copyright 1952 The Ronald Press Company. Originally pub- 
lished in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, Vol. 19, 1949. 

x Beata Rank [1] and her collaborators observed such psychic transmission 
of conflict constellations to children who became feeding problems. Betty 
Joseph [2] has shown the same in infants of five to seven months who 
developed biting symptoms and anxiety. Margaret Fries [3] investigated the 
interaction between mother and infant during the lying-in period, and Dr. 
Rene" Spitz [4j demonstrated the infant's reactions to the mother's depression. 


1$6 Therese Benedek 

had opportunity to study the primary psychobiological factors 
in childbearing. The behavior manifestations which are usually 
accessible to psychoanalysis reveal that the woman's identifica- 
tion with her mother motivates her attitude toward motherhood 
and determines her behavior toward her children. While such 
psychoanalytic observations elucidate how emotionally deter- 
mined attitudes may be carried over from generation to genera- 
tion, they do not answer the question whether there is a genuine, 
primary psychological need (instinct, in Freud's sense) which 
directs the woman's desire for conception and motherhood and 
motivates her motherliness. 

The study of the sexual cycle in women [5] a detailed analy- 
sis of the emotional processes as they unfold in correlation with 
the hormonal cycle of the ovaries has thrown new light upon 
the female psychosexual organization. 

A complete discussion of the sexual cycle is beyond the scope 
of this presentation. In order to elucidate the psychology of 
motherhood, however, I shall discuss one phase of the cycle, the 
postovulative, progestin phase. After ovulation, the wall of the 
ruptured follicle, from which the ovum has escaped, undergoes 
a process of luteinization and produces a hormone called lutein 
or progestin. The function of this hormone is to prepare the mu- 
cous membrane of the uterus to receive the impregnated ovum 
and to help to maintain pregnancy if conception occurs. If con- 
ception does not occur, the progestin production declines after 
four to six days, the uterine mucosa breaks down, and the uterus 
is prepared for menstruation. The emotional state which develops 
in correlation with the progestin phase can be compared with 
the "quiet period" in lower mammals. The psychic apparatus 
seems to register the somatic preparation for the pregnancy by a 
change of emotional attitude: the woman's interest shifts from 
extraverted activities to her body and its welfare. Expressed in 
psychodynamic terms: the libido is withdrawn from external, 
heterosexual objects, becomes concentrated upon the self. This is 
the phase of the cycle during which the woman's desire for preg- 
nancy, or her defense against it, dominates the psychoanalytic 
material. At the same time, or some days later in the cycle, the 

Psychosomatic Implications of Mother-Child Relationships 187 

analytic material may show preoccupation with care of the child. 2 
However, as if mother and child were identical or interchange- 
able, the tendencies toward child care may be expressed at one 
time actively, as a wish to nurse, to feed, to take care of the baby; 
and at other times the same woman may express the same tend- 
encies passively, as a desire to be fed, to be taken care of. 

Helene Deutsch [6] found that a deep-rooted passivity and a 
specific tendency toward introversion are characteristic qualities 
of the female psyche. Our study of the sexual cycle reveals that 
these propensities of female psychology are repeated in cyclic 
intervals, in correspondence with the specifically female gonad 
hormone, progestin, during the postovulative phase of the ovarian 
cycle. On the basis of such observations, we assume that the emo- 
tional manifestations of the specific passive-receptive and narcis- 
sistic-retentive tendencies represent the psychodynamic correlates 
of the biological need for motherhood. 

The psychology of pregnancy is easily understood in the light 
of the psychodynamic processes which accompany the progestin 
phase of the cycle. Just as the monthly repetition of the physio- 
logical processes represents a somatic preparation for pregnancy, 
so the corresponding monthly repetition of the emotional atti- 
tudes represents a preparation for that introversion of psychic 
energies which motivates the emotional attitudes of the pregnant 

The interaction between mother and child the symbiosis 
begins after conception. The enhanced hormonal and general 
metabolic processes which are necessary to maintain normal 
pregnancy produce an increase of vital energies. The pregnant 
woman in her placid vegetative calmness enjoys her pregnant 
body, which is like a reservoir replenished with libidinous feel- 
ings. While such feelings enhance the mother's well-being, they 
also become the source of her motherliness: they increase her 
pleasure in bearing the child and her patience in regard to some 
of the discomforts of her pregnancy. Primary narcissism the 

2 We could not determine whether this occurs in correlation with progestin 
alone or in correlation with prolacrin production in these women who are 
neither pregnant nor lactating. 

188 Therese Benedek 

result of surplus energy [7] produced by active metabolic balance 
is the reservoir which supplies with libido the various emotional 
tasks of living. As the hormonal processes of pregnancy replenish 
the primary narcissism of the woman, this becomes the source of 
her motherliness. The general behavior and the emotional state 
during pregnancy may appear "regressive" if we compare them 
with the usual level of ego integration of the same woman; yet 
ihe condition which appears regressive on the ego level represents 
a growth of the integrative span of the personality on the biologi- 
cal level. While the mother feels her growing capacity to love and 
to take care of the child, she actually experiences a general im- 
provement in her emotional balance. We have observed that many 
neurotic women, who suffered severe anxiety states before, have 
become free from anxiety during pregnancy. Others become 
free from depression and from desperate mood changes. Many 
women, despite the discomforts of nausea or morning sickness, 
feel emotionally stable and have the "best time" during preg- 
nancy. This does not mean we are forgetting that some women 
become severely panic-stricken and/or depressed during preg- 
nancy. (Usually, this happens in the latter part of pregnancy or 
after delivery.) If the woman's developmental disturbance is 
such that her ego is unable to master the productive task of 
childbearing, a dissociation of the functions (physiological and 
mental) may occur during the pregnancy. In this paper, how- 
ever, we are discussing the emotional course of the normal preg- 
nancy, which enriches the somatic and psychic energies of the 
woman to a degree that she becomes able to master emotional 
conflicts which were disturbing to her at other times. The force 
which maintains pregnancy is responsible for the characteristic 
attitude of withdrawal which sometimes becomes intensified to 
such a degree that nothing else, no other reality, counts for the 
pregnant woman, and she lives as in a daze. 3 

Another aspect of the psychology of pregnancy is expressed 
by an increase in the receptive tendencies. This is a manifesta- 

8 This is the reason that some women, even if they have to hide the 
pregnancy for example, unmarried mothers do not realize the actual diffi- 
culties they have to face, hut forget about them until the delivery creates a 
different emotional situation. 

Psychosomatic Implications of Mother-Child Relationships 189 

tion of the biological process of growth which it serves. The 
voraciousness and the bizarre appetite of the pregnant woman are 
well known. "She eats for two" expresses permission, especially 
when gratification of such needs is not limited by medical control. 
The pregnant woman thrives on the sympathy and solicitude of 
her environment. If, however, her passive receptive needs are 
unfulfilled, if her husband or her family are not adequately at- 
tentive, the sense of frustration may set in action a regressive 
process which may increase her receptive needs to an exaggerated 
degree. The resulting anger may destroy the primary narcissistic 
state of pregnancy, and thus it may interfere with the develop- 
ment of motherliness. 

The difference between primary and secondary narcissism in 
the development of motherliness can easily be seen when we con- 
trast the vital libidinal energy (produced by the metabolic proc- 
esses maintaining the pregnancy) and the secondary ego grati- 
fications which the pregnant woman may expect in connection 
with her pregnancy and her child. The need for ego gratification 
may change the fantasies of the mother from the unqualified 
desire for a child to definite wishes and ambitions which she 
hopes and intends to fulfill through the child. Thus the child be- 
comes a means for gratification of individually determined goals, 
even before it is born. A mother may worry during the pregnancy 
lest her child will not be all that is desired, i.e., a son for one 
reason or a daughter for another. Many other conflicts, arising 
from the secondary narcissistic goals of the personality, may dis- 
turb the development of genuine motherliness. 4 

The important role that hormonal stimulation plays in develop- 
ment and performance of motherliness has been well studied in 
animals. In the human one is inclined to overlook the role of 
hormonal stimulation, since motherliness, an idealized attitude of 

* There are other factors in the psychology of pregnancy which may interfere 
with the development of motherliness, such as the fear of death at child- 
birth, exaggerated fear of labor pains, etc. These are, however, symptoms 
motivated by developmental conflicts of the woman and are, therefore, 
secondary. Here the discussion is limited to those aspects of the psychology 
of motherhood which are related directly to the hormonal processes. How- 
ever, the hormonal processes may be influenced by environmental factors 
which motivate the psychosexual development in roto, such as the girl's 
identification with the mother [5]. 

190 Therese Benedek 

highest value, is considered as the fulfillment of ethical aspects 
of the personality rather than of "animalistic" biological func- 
tions. Yet motherliness is a function of a specific biological 
and psychic maturation; its completion, as many observations 
prove, is only rarely reached at and about the birth of the first 

While the trauma of birth the interruption of the fetal sym- 
biosis in recent years has been studied often from the point of 
view of the infant, its significance for the mother has been rela- 
tively neglected. I do not refer here to the massive obstetrical 
traumata and the resulting pathology. I rather want to point out 
that when the newborn leaves the womb and has to become active 
in securing the basic needs for living, the mother's organism has 
to become reorganized also. In some sense, this may be con- 
sidered as a trauma for the mother. The hormonal and metabolic 
changes which induce parturition, the labor pains, and the excite- 
ment of delivery, even without intensive use of narcotics, in- 
terrupt the continuity of the mother-child unity. After delivery, 
when the organism as a whole is preparing for the next func- 
tion of motherhood lactation mothers, especially primiparas, 
may experience an "emotional lag." For the nine months of the 
pregnancy, they were preparing to love the baby. After delivery, 
they may be surprised by a lack of feeling for the child. 5 Usually 
love for the newborn wells up in the mother as she first hears the 
cry of her baby. The sensation of love reassures the mother about 
the continuity of her oneness with the child and she may relax 
and wait serenely to receive her child on her breast. It is different 
if the mother, instead of love, feels a sense of loss and emptiness; 
if she has the feeling of a distance between herself and the infant; 
views the baby as an outsider, an object; and she asks herself 
with estrangement, "Is this what I had in me?" Mothers having 
such a disquieting experience usually muster all their self-control 
to suppress this feeling and try to summon their previous fanta- 
sies to establish an emotional relationship with the infant. Such 
mothers, disappointed in themselves by the lack of love, feel 

6 This occurs more often if delivery was performed under complete anes- 
thesia, so that the mother has no memory of the experience. 

Psychosomatic Implications of Mother-Child Relationships 191 

guilty, become anxious; and with this the insecurity toward the 
child begins. 6 

The further development of the mother-child relationship de- 
pends on the total personality of the mother; she may develop a 
depression and withdraw from the child; she may turn against 
the child who exposed her failure in loving and reject it com- 
pletely; or she may overcompensate the fear of not being able 
to love and may become overindulgent and protective. This early 
post-partum emotional lag is a critical period during which the 
husband's relationship to his wife, his readiness for gratifying his 
wife's dependent needs, is of great importance. The post-partum 
woman, for many reasons, including physiological motivations, 
has a regressive tendency, and therefore has a great desire to be 
mothered. Through the love which she passively receives, she 
may be able to overcome the depression and give love to her 

Whether the mother, through the feeling of love, is able to 
maintain the sense of unity with her child, or whether she has to 
miss this most significant gratification, the organism of the mother 
is not ready to give up the symbiosis after parturition. The need 
for its continuation exists in the mother, whose hormonal house- 
hold is preparing to continue the symbiosis by lactation. 

The psychosomatic correlations during normal lactation have 
not been studied closely because lactation is a contented period in 
the woman's life. The hormonal function related to prolactin 
production which stimulates milk secretion, usually suppresses 
the gonad function and induces an emotional attitude which is 
similar to that of the progestin phase of the cycle. As is now 
known, during the monthly preparation for pregnancy, the inten- 
tion toward motherliness is expressed by active and passive recep- 
tive tendencies. During lactation, both the active and passive re- 
ceptive tendencies gain in intensity; they become the axis around 

6 Whether the post-partum metabolic processes have such a generally de- 
pressing effect on the mother that she is unable to feel love, and consequently 
becomes afraid of the tasks of motherhood, or whether the lack of motherly 
emotions is the result of the immaturity of those psychic and somatic processes 
which result in motherliness, deserves further study and probably needs to be 
established in each case. 

192 Therese Benedek 

which the activities of motherliness center. The woman's desire 
to nurse the baby, to be close to it bodily, represents the continu- 
ation of the original symbiosis, not only for the infant, but for 
the mother as well. While the infant incorporates the breast, the 
mother feels united with the baby. The identification with the 
baby permits the mother to "regress," to repeat and satisfy her 
own passive, dependent, receptive needs. The emotional experi- 
ences of lactation, while they permit a process of identification 
between mother and child, afford a slow, step-by-step integration 
of normal motherliness. 

What have our present methods of child care done with the 
woman's ability and readiness to nurse the baby? It would lead 
us away from the primarily psychosomatic frame of this presen- 
tation if I went into a discussion of the sociological and anthropo- 
logical factors which, in our culture, interfere with the continua- 
tion of the symbiosis between mother and infant during lacta- 
tion. The result of the suppression of the natural process of 
motherliness is, however, very serious. Possibly the baby's "for- 
mula" can improve on nature as far as chemistry is concerned; 
possibly it can regulate the metabolic needs of the infant better 
than breast feeding does; but it cannot develop motherliness 
through the bottle, even if the mother is permitted to hold her 
baby in her arms while she feeds him, as present-day nursing 
care encourages. 

One example of incipient disturbance of motherliness I ob- 
served recently: this young woman was very anxious to have a 
second baby and was very happy when she became pregnant. Her 
moodiiiess, which often led to suicidal ideas, disappeared and she 
felt serene during the pregnancy. While the delivery of the first 
baby in a military hospital during the war had been a frightening 
experience, this fear was now overcome since everything could 
be arranged according to her wishes. She had a normal delivery 
with anesthesia only at the end. To the great surprise of the nurses, 
she wanted her baby rooming-in with her. She felt happy and 
contented, watching her infant and nursing him, concentrating 
on him completely. Then she developed a slight infection and 
the baby was taken away from her. When she went home, a nurse 
took over the care of the baby. As the nurse watched her feed- 

Psychosomatic Implications of Mother-Child Relationships 193 

ing the baby, she felt her milk being dissipated. The nurse was 
eager to give the baby the bottle. The mother became uncomfort- 
able and depressed. Although she felt that she was losing what 
she wanted so much, her friends began to tell her that it was time 
for her to go out, to enjoy her freedom while she had the nurse. 
She became moody. "I spend time fantasying about being sick 
and in the hospital again," she confessed. She complained that 
she was superfluous to the baby, yet she did not dare to send the 
nurse away and take full responsibility, for she was not certain 
that she could enjoy at home the same concentration upon the 
infant as she had felt in the hospital. "That would be unfair to 
the older child," she protested, and it would also seem silly to 
some of her friends. Thus, five weeks after delivery in old times, 
she would still be "in confinement" she was in the psychiatrist's 
office complaining about two things: (a) that she loved the baby 
in the hospital, but now did not know how to love him; and (b) 
that the baby, who was so quiet and gained weight so well, had 
become fussy, was crying a great deal, and had even vomited 
once or twice, and this frightened her. 

No single example can completely illustrate the point which I 
want to make: namely, that not only the infant has the need for 
the mother's readiness to nurse, to take care of him; not the baby 
alone thrives on the closeness of the mother, by her warmth and 
tenderness; but the mother also has an instinctual need to fulfill 
the physiological and emotional preparedness for her motherli- 
ness. If this process of the mother's development is suppressed, 
the enforced changes in the hormonal function may disturb that 
psychosomatic balance which is the source of motherliness. The 
vulnerability of the integration of motherliness can be explained 
by a summary of the psychosomatic processes of the puerperium 7 
and lactation. 

1. When one compares the psychosexual integration of the 
personality during the puerperium with that of the "highest" 
integration of the personality, the lactating or puerperal mother 
appears regressed to an oral level. 

2. While this psychosexual state accounts for the (uncon- 

7 Puerperium is the period from termination of labor to the completion of 
the involution of the uterus usually six weeks. 

194 Therese Benedek 

scious) communication identification between mother and in- 
fant it also accounts for the depressive reactions of the mother. 8 
Thus the mother becomes oversensitive in regard to her capacity 
for fulfilling the function of motherhood. 

Every indication of her failure increases the mother's sense 
of inferiority and creates anxious tension and depression. Just 
as the suppression of lactation interferes with the development 
of motherliness, so failure of motherliness, originating in other 
sources of the personality, may interfere with lactation. In old 
times, one used to say that the emotional disturbance of the 
mother "goes on the milk," and it was assumed that the emotional 
disturbance influenced not only the quantity, but also the quality 
of the milk, so that the baby received milk which was "difficult 
to digest" and caused colic and other suffering. For many years, 
one shrugged scientific shoulders over such "superstition." Today, 
we accept it as fact, although we admit that we do not know the 
pathways by which the emotional tensions of the mother are 
transmitted to the infant. 

In an earlier paper, I examined the interaction between mother 
and infant in regard to the development of the adaptive capacity 
of the ego [8]. It is pertinent to summarize here the main conclu- 
sions of that study. 

According to our hypothesis, the symbiosis between mother 
and child continues on a different scale during the neonatal 
period. The sleeping infant is in a condition closely resembling 
that of intrauterine life. The arising physiological needs disturb 
the sleep, and then the course of gratification is as follows: crying 
gratification sleep. This process evolves; as far as the newborn 
is concerned, -within the self, without realization of the external 
environment. The mother's genuine motherliness, her desire and 
ability to supply the infant with the sensations of "protectedness," 
reduce the frequency of disturbing stimuli and diminish the in- 
tensity and length of the crying fits. Through the rhythmic repeti- 
tion of the gratification of his physiological needs, the infant de- 
velops to the perception that the source of the need (hunger, pain, 

8 That the intensification of the oral receptive tendencies represents the 
psychodynamic conditions for the development or depression is a well-estab- 
lished concept of psychoanalysis. 

Psychosomatic Implications of Mother-Child Relationships 195 

discomfort) is within, and the source of gratification is outside 
the self. 

By the same routinely returning process of gratifications, the 
infant acquires a sense of confidence that the mother will gratify 
his needs. It is difficult to describe the phenomenology of this 
early emotional state, although mothers will recognize its mani- 
festations in the baby's way of turning his head, following 
with his eyes, ceasing to cry for a short while when the mother 
is near, etc. This indicates that confidence plays an important 
role in the economy of the psychic apparatus during infancy: it 
preserves the mother-child unity; it helps to decrease the intensity 
of the outer stimuli and thus averts anxiety. Lack of confidence 
stimulates tension which may grow into discomfort and anxiety. 
This emotional shelter confidence and the positive, dependent 
relationship to the mother which is its consequence, facilitates 
learning in the normal infant. The ego, strengthened by the libidi- 
nal relationship to the mother on the one hand and by the 
absence of anxiety on the other, develops an adequate capacity 
to perceive the objects of the outer world; such an ego is able to 
accept new and unexpected situations (always in a degree which 
corresponds to the developmental level of the child) and masters 
them by trust in the mother. 9 

Quite different from this ego structure is the ego of those 
infants whose development was not guided by the confident 
relationship to the mother. Hospitalism [10] is a severe state of 
inhibition which develops in infants raised in institutions, where 
routine substitutes for love. Without the loving stimulation of one 
individual, children with such dependent needs do not turn to 
any person with confidence. Such children do not watch the 
person, but rather the bottle, or some other phase of the routine. 
It was observed that such children refused the bottle when it was 

& The concept of confidence can be compared with the concept of nope [9]. 
French shows how "hope" facilitates the mental processes necessary for 
achieving a goal. We believe that hope develops as a mental habit on the 
basis of confidence. Through confidence in the forthcoming passive gratifica- 
tions and in tne forthcoming help and support in attempts at active mastery, 
the ego develops to a stage in which it is able to project the expectations for 
gratification in the future. Hope, like confidence, diminishes the sense of 
frustration and already in early childhood enables the individual to wait for 
gratification without a sudden increase in the psychic tension. 

196 Therese Benedek 

offered from the side of the bed other than they were used to. 
Such children adapt to the routine gratification of their needs 
with conditioned reflexes. 

Conditioned reflexes represent a significant part of primary 
learning in normal children also. Yet there is an important differ- 
ence between the learning of the healthy infant and that of the 
infant developing various degrees of hospitalism. Conditioning is 
an adaptive mechanism, which serves as protection against anxi- 
ety. Anxiety has several sources. One of them is the body itself, 
which generates pain by the sensation of unsatisfied physiologic 
needs; the other source of anxiety is the danger in which the weak 
ego finds itself when alone and isolated. Infants raised by love- 
less routine are exposed to anxiety-producing situations more 
often than those whose needs are met with loving care. The ego, 
beset by anxiety too often, and for too long a time, remains fix- 
ated to the level of primitive conditioning. Such reflex adaptation 
saves the child from further increase of tension, and the child 
remains calm as long as every step of the routine is followed with- 
out a change. Every new situation, even a slight change in the 
routine, will, however, be experienced as a danger; the child 
responds with anxiety, i.e., with crying. If the environmental 
situation cannot be improved, the inhibition increases; the child, 
in order to avoid anxiety, finally refuses to respond and does not 
accept any new situation. If only the bare physiologic needs of a 
child are supplied, he may grow up to become a deeply inhibited 
/person. For such an individual, every new situation will reactivate 
a part of that anxiety which he experienced as an infant. The 
individual who did not learn to love during the first year of life 
will be threatened whenever he shall develop a new object rela- 

I have presented two extremes. In the one environment, the 
processes of growth appear to be ideally regulated by the in- 
fant's own needs, the mother responding to them in a way which 
all but repeats the symbiosis, permitting the infant to develop to 
independence at his own pace. In the other environment, the 
symbiosis was interrupted, the nursing care did not supply enough 
gratification to enable the infant to develop emotional interper- 
sonalized and intrapsychic defenses against anxiety. These ex- 

Psychosomatic Implications of Mother-Child Relationships 197 

tremes illustrate that the ego's capacity to learn to master the 
object world goes hand in hand with the development of object- 
libidinal relationship. The ego structure developing through the 
buffer of confidence has a greater span and flexibility in adapta- 
tion to reality. In contrast, if the psychic economy is not relieved 
by a sense of security in the relationship with the mother, but has 
to concentrate upon mastering and avoiding anxiety, it will pro- 
duce an ego structure fixated to rigidly conditioned adaptation. 
Such ego structure may break down at any time when a new 
adaptive task emerges. 

The interaction between mother and infant, however, can be 
studied in even more detail in the large majority of instances 
ranging between these extremes. 

The activity pattern of the newborn depends upon the irrita- 
bility of his nervous system, on the one hand, and upon the degree 
of protection against the disturbing stimuli on the other. In the 
light of our discussion, we may say that the infant born with a 
nervous system of greater sensitivity would need a longer, better- 
functioning substitute for the intrauterine symbiosis. 10 However, 
experience shows that the mothers of the "nervous" babies are 
usually less able to provide their infants with an environment of 
fewer stimulations. The mature, normal newborn calms down 
under the influence of normal nursing care to this rhythm: need 
crying gratification sleep. It takes usually four weeks, i.e., 
the neonatal period, to advance in physiological adjustment to a 
degree which assures smoother vegetative functioning. 

It is observed that a large proportion of babies, instead of be- 
coming "happier" at about the age of four weeks, show a new 
type of crying. Gesell and Ilg [11] state: "The baby shows a 
tendency to cry prior to sleep." This "wakefulness crying" tends 
to occur in the afternoon and the evening. It loses its prominence 
at about ten or twelve weeks. 

What is the cause of this irritability? In the light of our assump- 

10 First-born infants, on account of lesser maturation, or on account ot 
greater birth trauma, represent a more difficult task to a mother who has also 
less maturity in handling the child. Thus, the first-born infant's activity 
pattern is more fitful; it takes longer for him to quiet down than for sub- 
sequent children of the same parent. This statement must be checked, how- 
ever, in regard to the many factors which may influence mother and child 

198 Therese Benedek 

tion that the mother as well as the baby has a need for continua- 
tion of the symbiosis, we may speculate on the significance of the 
baby's increased demand on the mother at a time when she begins 
to tuna away from the baby and becomes more active in the other 
areas of her existence. Do infants then demand more intensely 
the re-establishment of the symbiosis? Or do they respond to the 
increased tenseness of the mother? Be that as it may, the infant 
has no means other than his crying fit for discharging tension. 
It is fortunate that the infant has no memory of the amount of 
discomfort and pain which his crying fit would indicate. The un- 
readiness of his nervous system, the lack of internal barriers 
(Reiz-Schutz) , accounts for the spreading of the tension which 
may increase to a veritable "storm of excitation" and may invade 
the viscera [12]. It will depend on the degree of maturity of the 
vegetative nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract whether 
such excitation becomes bound to definite parts of the gastroin- 
testinal system and its functioning. Thus, symptoms like pyloric 
spasm, as well as colic, can be explained as steps in the mastery 
of the general excitation of the nervous system. Generally, the 
intensity and frequency of such disturbances during the first 
three months measure the pace of interaction between mother and 

Melanie Klein [13] assumes that infants, struggling with a 
breast which does not feed or which overflows, infants suffering 
from pain of hunger, colic, or other bodily discomfort, acquire 
the concepts of "good" and "bad'* within themselves. Even if we 
do not follow Klein's complex psychologic elaborations, we may 
accept, on the basis of observation, that anxiety and pain (any 
sort of discomfort may cause anxiety in the infant) increase the 
urge to re-establish security by being close to the mother. The 
crying, grasping infant bites the nipple with force and suckles 
with greed; the sick infant, too, gasping with opening and closing 
of the mouth, wants to incorporate the mother, to re-establish 
the symbiosis which once supplied all needs without pain. If 
such intensification of the incorporative needs leads to gratifica- 
tion, the interaction between mother and child improves. If, 
however, the mother does not succeed in pacifying the infant, 
his physiological tension increases and the need for incorporation 

Psychosomatic Implications of Mother-Child Relationships 199 

becomes more and more charged with motor energy. We speak 
of "hostile incorporation" although the psychic representation 
of hostility can hardly exist so early. But its model is formed. The 
hostile incorporation augments the internal tension of the infant; 
at the same time, it alienates the helpless mother who feels re- 
jected by her child. Thus while a vicious circle develops between 
mother and infant, another vicious circle within the infant be- 
comes intensified. The infant, after his attempts at incorporation 
which have failed to satisfy his needs, is helpless and exhausted. 
Rado and Fenichel [14] pointed out that the first regulator of 
self-esteem (Selbstgefuhl) is the satisfaction acquired by all the 
processes connected with feeding; they assume that the early 
disappointments, anxiety, helplessness, which some infants ex- 
perience in connection with feeding and digestion, may cause a 
sense of helplessness, of inferiority, of worthlessness; as if "bad- 
ness" were existing within the self. 

It is beyond the scope of this paper to elaborate how the 
primary self-esteem becomes the basis of ego development. Se- 
cure and stable, it is the core of a strong adaptable ego; help- 
less and insecure, it gives rise to a rigid ego structure which, 
under the strain of adaptive tasks arising later in life, may re- 
gress to the basic insecurity of early childhood. The regressive 
processes may then bring to the fore psychosomatic conditions 
which were determined by the developmental processes of in- 


The psychosomatic (hormonal) aspects of motherliness were 
discussed to demonstrate the mother's biological need for con- 
tinuation of symbiosis in the puerperiurn and during the child's 
infancy. This instinctual tendency toward motherliness corre- 
sponds to the helplessness of the newborn; it is gratified by 
sundry intimate functions of motherhood which supply both 
mother and infant with the gratification of their dependent 
needs. Motherliness, developing through sublimation of instinc- 
tual impulses, enlarges the span of the mother's personality; it 
encompasses her child. 

200 Therese Benedek 

The physiologic and mental apparatus of the infant represents 
a system which communicates broadly and fluently with the 
system of the mother with aU aspects of the mother's person- 
ality: with her id, her ego, and her superego. Through the proc- 
esses of identification with the mother, the infant develops from 
the undifferentiated state of the newborn to an individual with 
structuralized mental apparatus which is in control of psychic 
and somatic processes. 11 


JULES V. COLEMAN, M.D. 12 Dr. Benedek presents an interest- 
ing and again a classical discussion of a problem of intense 
practical importance. Motherliness as the central core of the 
experience of personality development in the infant is shown to 
be related to the mother's identification with her own mother, 
to the hormonal-personality interaction, and to a specific psycho- 
dynamic system. 

I was particularly interested in the discussion of the frequent 
reaction of early post-partum emotional lag, which I suppose may 
be related psychologically to a kind of separation anxiety, to 
a lack of tolerance for the sudden shift from a high level of 
narcissistic possessive enjoyment of the intrauterine child to a 
sense of detachment and even of loss. The more narcissistic 
woman for whom the incorporative possession of the child has 
special value may have difficulty in believing in the reality of 
the child outside herself, and may develop panic feelings arising 
out of the ambivalent conflict precipitated by the separation. 

Here, then, at any rate, in this early post-partum period, is 
one of the important crossroad experiences of motherhood, since 
it is here that the biological and psychological readiness patterns 

11 It would be a mistake to conclude that breast feeding holds the answer 
to all problems and that by itself it assures a conflictless evolution of the 
child-mother relationship. Long-term observations are necessary to evaluate the 
significance of breast feeding and the variations in its techniques for specific 
developmental conflicts. 

^'University of Colorado Medical Center, Denver. 

Psychosomatic Implications of Mother-Child Relationships 201 

may be throwo out of gear or entirely displaced, leaving indiffer- 
ence or hatred behind. Regardless of special psychological diffi- 
culties in the particular mother, there is always present this 
psychosomatic push for the preservation, continuation, and de- 
velopment of the symbiotic relationship, which, if not interfered 
with, does make the mother the final authority in child rearing, 
at least the rearing of her own child. 

One of our pediatricians in Denver insists that his mothers of 
premature babies visit the hospital on a regular schedule at least 
once a day, more often if possible, so that their breasts may 
be pumped to provide breast milk for the infant. Even if the 
milk is not used for the child, he feels that for the mother it is 
an essential experience of participation. 

It seems to me that in the work of pediatricians and other 
physicians caring for babies, as well as in the well-baby clinics, a 
primary concern should be the preservation of the biologically 
based and psychologically necessary symbiosis. It is not a mat- 
ter of method of child care but of helping the mother to find 
and to develop confidence in her own psychosomatic resources 
for this wholeness of shared experience in the symbiotic relation- 


cance of the "Emotional Climate" in Early Feeding Difficulties. Psycho- 
somatic Med., 10:279-283, 1948. 

[2] JOSEPH, BETTY. A Technical Problem in the Treatment of the Infant 
Patient. Intemat J. Psa., 29:58-59, 1948. 

[3] FRIES, MARGARET E. Psychosomatic Relationships Between Mother and 
Infant. Psychosomatic Med., 6:159-162, 1944. 

[4] SPITZ, RENE A. "Anaclitic Depression: An Inquiry into the Genesis of 
Psychiatric Conditions in Early Childhood." In The Psychoanalytic 
Study of the Child, Vol. II, pp. 313-342. Internal Univ. Press, New 
York, 1947. 

202 Therese Benedek 


Women: The Relation Between Ovarian Function and Psychodynamic 
Processes. Psychosomatic Med. Monogs., Vol. Ill, Nos. 1 and 2. National 
Research Council, Washington, D. C., 1942. 

[6] DEUTSCH, HELENE. The Psychology of Women; A Psychoanalytic In- 
terpretation, Vols. I and II. Grune & Stratton, New York, 1944, 1945. 

[7] ALEXANDER, FRANZ. Psychoanalysis Revised. Psa. Quart., 9:1, 1940. 

[8] BENEDEK, THERESE. Adaptation to Reality in Early Infancy. Ibid., 7:200- 
215, 1938. 

[9] FRENCH, THOMAS M. The Integration of Social Behavior. Ibid., 14:159- 
165, 1945. 

[10] SPITZ, RENE A. "Hospitalism : An Inquiry into the Genesis of Psychiatric 
Conditions in Early Childhood." In The Psychoanalytic Study of the 
Child, Vol. I, 1945, pp. 113-117. 

. ''Hospitalism: A Follow-up Report/' Ibid., Vol. II, 1947, pp. 


[11] GESELL, ARNOLD, and FRANCES M. iLG. Infant and Child in the Culture 
of Today. Harper, New York, 1943. 

[12] PEIPER, ALBRECHT. Die Kiampfbeieitschati des Satiglings. Jahrbuch fuer 
Kmderheilkunde, 125:194, 1929. 

[13] KLEIN, MELANIE. The Psycho-Analysis of Children. Norton, New York, 

[14] RADO, SANDOR. The Psychical ESects of Intoxificarion: Attempt at a 
Psychoanalytical Theory of Drug-Addiction. Internat. J. Psa., 9:301-317, 

FENICHEL, OTTO. Fruehe EntwicHungsstadien des Ichs. Imago, 23:243- 
269, 1937. 



On Memory and Childhood Amnesia 5 * 

Greek mythology celebrates Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, 
as the mother of all art. She bore the nine muses to Zeus. 1 Cen- 
turies after the origin of this myth Plato banned poetry, the 
child of memory, from his ideal state as being idle and seductive. 
While lawmakers, generals, and inventors were useful for the 
common good, the fact that Homer was nothing but a wanderin 
minstrel without a home and without a following proved how 
useless he was. 2 In the Odyssey the voices of the Sirens tempt 

For never yet hath any man rowed past 

This isle in his black ship, till he hath heard 

The honeyed music of our lips, and goes 

His way delighted and a wiser man. 

For see, we know the whole tale of the travail 

That Greeks and Trojans suffered in wide Troy-land 

By Heaven's behest; yea, and all things we know 

That come to pass upon the fruitful earth. 

* Reprinted by special permission of The William Alanson White Psy- 
chiatric Foundation, Inc., and Patrick Mullahy, from A Study of Interpersonal 
Relations, edited by Patrick Mullahy, and published by Hermitage House, 
Inc., New York. Copyright, 1949, by Hermitage Press, Inc. (Originally pub- 
lished in Psychiatry, 1947, 10:1-26; and, in abridged form, in Politics, Spring 

ir The words "muse" and "mnemosyne" derive from the same root: "men" 
or "man." Preller, Ludwig, Griechische Mythologie; Berlin 1872; vol. l r 
p. 399, footnote 1. In German, too, the words "Gedachtnis" (memory) and 
"Dichtung" (poetry) derive from the same root "denken" (think); compare 
also "gedenken" (remember). 

2 Plato, Republic, 599, 600. 


204 Ernest G. Schachtel 

Their irresistible song, in evoking the past, promises a de- 
light which will allow no future and will be the end of Ulysses' 
plans to return to an active life and to resume the rule of Ithaca. 
He prevents his shipmates from listening to the alluring voices by 
plugging their ears with wax, and he, too curious to renounce the 
pleasure, has himself chained to the ship's mast so that he will 
not be able to yield to their song and abandon the future. 

This ambivalent attitude toward memory, especially toward its 
most potent form as embodied in the song, the epic, the tale, in 
poetry, music, fiction, and in all art, has accompanied the his- 
tory of man. The modern, popular attitude, so widespread in the 
United States, the country of the most advanced industrial and 
technological civilization that all art and poetry is "sissy" is 
the latter-day implementation of the Platonic taboo. But with 
this difference: the contemporaries of Plato, and before them 
the shipmates of Ulysses, were susceptible to the promise of 
happiness that the song of the Sirens and of the muses contains, 
so that Ulysses and Plato, concerned with planning and not with 
the past, had to prevent their listening forcefully. Today the 
masses have internalized the ancient fear and prohibition of this 
alluring song and, in their contempt for it, express and repress 
both their longing for and their fear of the unknown vistas to 
which it might open the doors. 

The profound fascination of memory of past experience and 
the double aspect of this fascination its irresistible lure into 
the past with its promise of happiness and pleasure, and its 
threat to the kind of activity, planning, and purposeful thought 
and behavior encouraged by modern western civilization have 
attracted the thought of two men in recent times who have made 
the most significant modern contribution to the ancient questions 
posed by the Greek myth: Sigmund Freud and Marcel Proust. 

Both are aware of the antagonism inherent in memory, the 
conflict between reviving the past and actively participating in 
the present life of society. Both illuminate the nature of this 
conflict from different angles. Proust, the poet of memory, is 
ready to renounce all that people usually consider as active life, 
to renounce activity, enjoyment of the present moment, concern 
with the future, friendship, social intercourse, for the sublime 

On Memory and Childhood Amnesia 205 

happiness and profound truth recaptured in the most elusive o 
all treasures that man has hunted for, the "Remembrance of 
Things Past." He pursues this conflict between activity and 
memory into its most subtle manifestations. He knows that, as 
the awakening dreamer may lose the memory of his dream when 
he moves his limbs, opens his eyes, changes the position of his 
body, so the slightest motion may endanger and dispel the deep 
pleasure of the vision of the time in Combray, recaptured by 
the flavor of the madeleine, or the image of Venice conjured up 
by the sensation and the posture which the unevenness of the 
pavement in the court of the Guermantes town house brought 
to him as the unevenness of the pavement of San Marco had 
years ago. He does not dare to stir, for fear that the exhilarating 
vision may disappear. Bodily movement is the basic and simplest 
form of all activity endangering memory. Action itself, the atti- 
tude of activity, even the activity of enjoying the immediate 
present are seen by Proust as the antagonists, the incompatible 
alternative of memory. From here it is only one step to the 
insight that the memory which reveals the true vision of some- 
thing past, the memory celebrated by Proust, is very different 
from the voluntary, everyday memory, the useful instrument 
needed by man every hour and every minute to recall a word, 
a figure, a date, to recognize a person or an object, to think of 
his plans, tasks, intentions, the eminently utilitarian memory 
characterized by the very fact that it serves the purposes of 
active and conventionally organized life in society. Proust speaks 
of the artificiality and untruth of the pictures that this memory 
furnishes, of its flat and uniform quality which cannot do justice 
to the unique flavor and the true qualities of anything remem- 

While for Proust the antagonism between society and memory of 
the significant past can be resolved only by renouncing either one 
or the other, Goethe seeks to reconcile the two. When, at a party, 
a toast was proposed to memory he objected vehemently with 
these words: "I do not recognize memory in the sense in which 
you mean it. Whatever we encounter that is great, beautiful, 
significant, need not be remembered from outside, need not be 
hunted up and laid hold of as it were. Rather, from the beginning, 

206 Ernest G. Schachtel 

it must be woven into the fabric of our inmost self, must become 
one with it, create a new and better self in us and thus live and 
become a productive force in ourselves. There is no past that one 
is allowed to long for. There is only the eternally new, growing 
from the enlarged elements of the past; and genuine longing 
always must be productive, must create something new and 
better." 3 

Freud, not unlike Proust, approaches the problem of mem- 
ory not from wondering what, or how well, or how much man 
remembers, but how hard it is to remember, how much is for- 
gotten and not to be recovered at all or only with the greatest 
difficulty, and how the period richest in experience, the period 
of early childhood, is the one which usually is forgotten entirely 
save for a few apparently meaningless memory fragments. He 
finds this surprising since "we are informed that during those 
years which have left nothing but a few incomprehensible mem- 
ory fragments, we have vividly reacted to impressions, that we 
have manifested human pain and pleasure and that we have 
expressed love, jealousy and other passions as they then affected 
us." 4 The few incomprehensible memory fragments left over 
from childhood, he considers as "concealing memories" (Deck- 
erinnerungen), 5 and his painstaking work to decipher their 
language bears more than a superficial resemblance to Proust's 
attempt to decipher the hieroglyphic characters of the images of 
a cloud, a triangle, a belfry, a flower, a pebble a most difficult 
undertaking, but the only way to the true memories enclosed in 
these signs which seemed to be only indifferent material objects 
or sensations. It was Freud who made the discovery that a 
conflict, leading to repression, is responsible for the difficulty 
of remembering the past. His well-known explanation of infantile 
amnesia is that the forgetting of childhood experiences is due to 
progressive repression of infantile sexuality, which reaches the 

s Author's translation from Goethe's Gesprjiche; Herausgegeben von Flodoard 
Freiherr von Biedermann; Vol. 3, Leipzig 1910, p. 37 (November 4th, 1823). 
Compare with this Proust's "Les vrais paradis sont ks paiadis qu'on a perdus." 

*Sigmund Freud, Three Contributions to the Theory or Sex. In The Basic 
Writings of Sigmund Freud"; Random House, New York 1938; p. 581. 

6 $igmund Freud, Psychopathology of Everyday Lite; Basic Writings, pp. 

On Memory and Childhood Amnesia 207 

peak of its manifestations in the third and fourth years of life. 
This repression is brought about by the "psychic forces of loath- 
ing, shame, and moral and esthetic ideal demands." 6 These forces 
have the sanction of society, they are the product of society, they 
are part and serve the purposes of the same conventionally or- 
ganized life of society which moulds the functions of all social 
activity and of that "uniform" memory in which Proust saw 
the irreconcilable antagonists of the true remembrance of things 

It is the purpose of this essay to explore further the dynamics 
of this conflict in memory which leads to the striking phenome- 
non of childhood amnesia as well as to the difficulty, encountered 
by Proust though more hidden to the average eye, of recovering 
any true picture of past experience. To speak of a conflict in 
memory is a convenient abbreviation. Formulated more explicitly 
and accurately, the intention of this presentation is to shed light 
on some of the factors and conflicts in man and his society which 
make it difficult if not impossible for him really to remember 
his past and especially his early childhood. 

No greater change in the needs of man occurs than that which 
takes place between early childhood and adulthood. Into this 
change have gone all the decisive formative influences of the 
culture transmitted by the parents, laying the fundament of the 
transformation into the grown-up, "useful" member of society 
from the little heathen, who is helpless but as yet sees nothing 
wrong with following the pleasure principle completely and im- 
mediately and who has an insatiable curiosity and capacity for 

Ibid, p. 583. Freud asserts that the development of these forces during 
the latency period is organically determined and that it "can occasionally be 
produced without the help ot education." It is surprising that the man who 
discovered, explored, described, and emphasized over and over again the con- 
flier between culture, society, and sexual instinct should have ascribed the onto- 
genetic origin of sexual inhibitions to organic factors as though he wanted to 
explain as natural those inhibitions which a culture, hostile to pleasure and to 
sex, has created, deepened, and strengthened in every imaginable way. The 
only explanation for such a strange and questionable hypothesis lies, to my 
mind, in Freud's and every great discoverer's tragic conflict between a powerful 
and lucid mind searching for truth and the person who never can entirely ex- 
tricate himself from the thousand threads with which he is captured and tied 
to the prejudices, ideologies, falsehoods, and conventions of his time and society. 

208 Ernest G. Schachtel 

experience. An explanation of cMldhood amnesia that takes into 
account these changes leads to the following tentative hypothesis: 

The categories (or schemata) of adult memory are not suitable 
receptacles for early childhood experiences and therefore not fit 
to preserve these experiences and enable their recall. The func- 
tional capacity of the conscious, adult memory is usually limited 
to those types of experience which the adult consciously makes 
and is capable of making. 

It is not merely the repression of a specific content, such as 
early sexual experiences, that accounts for the general childhood 
amnesia; the biologically, culturally, and socially influenced 
process of memory organization results in the formation of 
categories (schemata) of memory which are not suitable vehicles 
to receive and reproduce experiences of the quality and intensity 
typical of early childhood. The world of modern western civili- 
zation has no use for this type of experience. In fact, it cannot 
permit itself to have any use for it; it cannot permit the memory 
of it, because such memory, if universal, would explode the 
restrictive social order of this civilization. No doubt the hostility 
of western civilization to pleasure, and to sexual pleasure as 
the strongest of all, is a most important factor operative in 
the transformation and education of the child into an adult who 
will be able to fulfill the role and the functions he has to take 
over in society and will be satisfied by them. Freud has not only 
called attention to the phenomenon of childhood amnesia but 
has also singled out a decisive factor in its genesis. I believe, 
however, that two points are important for a more adequate 
understanding of the phenomenon. First, it is not sufficiently 
clear why a repression of sexual experience should lead to a 
repression of all experience in early childhood. For this reason 
the assumption seems more likely that there must be something 
in the general quality of childhood experience which leads to 
the forgetting of that experience. Second, the phenomenon of 
childhood amnesia leads to a problem regarding the nature of 
repression, especially repression of childhood material. The term 
and concept of repression suggest that material which per se 
could be recalled is excluded from recall because of its traumatic 
nature. If the traumatic factor can be clarified and dissolved, 

On Memory and Childhood Amnesia 209 

the material is again accessible to recall. But even the most pro- 
found and prolonged psychoanalysis does not lead to a recovery 
of childhood memory; at best it unearths some incidents and 
feelings that had been forgotten. Childhood amnesia, then, may 
be due to a formation of the memory functions which makes 
them unsuitable to accommodate childhood experience, rather 
than exclusively to a censor repressing objectionable material 
which, without such repression, could and would be remembered. 
The adult is usually not capable of experiencing what the child 
experiences; more often than not he is not even capable of im- 
agining what the child experiences. It would not be surprising, 
then, that he should be incapable of recalling his own childhood 
experiences since his whole mode of experiencing has changed. 
The person who remembers is the present person, a person who 
has changed considerably, whose interests, needs, fears, capacity 
for experience and emotion have changed. The two mechanisms 
of forgetting suggested here shade gradually and imperceptibly 
into one another. They are neither alternatives nor opposites, 
but rather the two ends of a continuous scale. 

Both Freud and Proust speak of the autobiographical memory, 
and it is only with regard to this memory that the striking phe- 
nomenon of childhood amnesia and the less obvious difficulty of 
recovering any past experience may be observed. There is no 
specific childhood amnesia as far as the remembrance of words 
learned or objects and persons recognized is concerned. This 
type of material is remembered because, in contrast to the 
autobiographical past, it is constantly re-experienced and used 
and because it is essential for the orientation and adaptation 
of the growing child to his environment. 

The autobiographical memory shows indeed in most persons, 
if not in all, the amnesia for then: early childhood from birth 
to approximately the fifth or sixth years. Of course, there are 
gaps in the memory of many people for later periods of their 
lives also, probably more so for the period before than after 
puberty; but these gaps vary individually to a much greater 
extent than does the ubiquitous early childhood amnesia. It 
one believes Proust, life after childhood is not remembered either, 
save for the elusive flashes of a vision given only to the most 

210 Ernest G. Schachtel 

sensitive and differentiated mind as the rare grace of a fortunate 
moment, which then the poet, with passionate devotion and 
patient labor, may try to transcribe and communicate, 

Freud contrasts the presumable riches of childhood experience, 
the child's great capacity for impressions and experience, with 
the poverty or total lack of memory of such rich experience. If 
o$e looks closely at the average adult's memory of the periods 
of his life after childhood, such memory, it is true, usually shows 
no great temporal gaps. It is fairly continuous. But its formal 
continuity in time is offset by barrenness in content, by an 
incapacity to reproduce anything that resembles a really rich, 
full, rounded, and alive experience. Even the most "exciting" 
events are remembered as milestones rather than as moments 
filled with the concrete abundance of life. Adult memory reflects 
life as a road with occasional signposts and milestones rather 
than as the landscape through which this road has led. The mile- 
stones are the measurements of time, the months and years, the 
empty count of time gone by, so many years spent here, so many 
years spent there, moving from one place to another, so many 
birthdays, and so forth. The signposts represent the outstand- 
ing events to which they point entering college, the first job, 
marriage, birth of children, buying a house, a family celebration, 
a trip. But it is not the events that are remembered as they 
really happened and were experienced at the time. What is re- 
membered is usually, more or less, only the fact that such an 
event took place. The signpost is remembered, not the place, 
the thing, the situation to which it points. And even these sign- 
posts themselves do not usually indicate the really significant 
moments in a person's life; rather they point to the events that 
are conventionally supposed to be significant, to the clich6s which 
society has come to consider as the main stations of life. Thus 
the memories of the majority of people come to resemble in- 
creasingly the stereotyped answers to a questionnaire, in which 
life consists of time and place of birth, religious denomination, 
residence, educational degrees, job, marriage, number and birth- 
dates of children, income, sickness and death. The average 
traveler, asked about his trip, will tell you how many miles he 

On Memory and Childhood Amnesia 211 

has made (how many years he has lived); how fast he went 
(how successful he was); what places he has visited usually 
only the well known ones, often he visits only those that one 
"simply must have seen" (the jobs he has held, the prestige he 
has gained). He can tell you whether the driving was smooth 
or rough, or whether somebody bumped his fender, but he will 
be quite unable to give you any real idea of the country through 
which he went. So the average traveler through life remembers 
chiefly what the road map or the guide book says, what he is 
supposed to remember because it is exactly what everybody else 
remembers too. 

In the course of later childhood, adolescence, and adult life, 
perception and experience themselves develop increasingly into 
the rubber stamps of conventional cliches. The capacity to see 
and feel what is there gives way to the tendency to see and feel 
what one expects to see and feel, which, in turn, is what one is 
expected to see and feel because everybody else does. 7 Experience 
increasingly assumes the form of the cliche under which it will be 
recalled because this cliche is what conventionally is remembered 
by others. This is not the remembered situation itself, but the 
words which are customarily used to indicate this situation and 
the reactions which it is supposed to evoke. While this ubiquitous 
and powerful tendency toward pseudo-experience in terms of 
conventional cliches usually takes place unnoticed, it is quite 
articulate in some people and is used widely in advertising. There 
are people who experience a party, a visit to the movies, a play, 
a concert, a trip in the very words in which they are going to tell 
their friends about it; in fact, quite often, they anticipate such 
experience in these words. The experience is predigested, as it 
were, even before they have tasted of it. Like the unfortunate 
Midas, whose touch turned everything into gold so that he could 
not eat or drink, these people turn the potential nourishment 
of the anticipated experience into the sterile currency of the 

T Tolstoi gives a masterful description of how, in an adolescent girl during 
a visit to the opera, the experience of what happens on the stage changes from 
a genuine, naive, and fresh view to the conventional "appreciation" of the 
opera habitue". His account of her initial perceptions, by the way, is a sur- 
realist description of opera more than half a century "before surrealism. 
Tolstoi, War and Peace, part 8, chapters 9 and 10. 

212 Ernest G. Schachtel 

conventional phrase which exhausts their experience because they 
have seen, heard, felt nothing but this phrase with which later 
they will report to their friends the "exciting time" they have 
had. The advertising business seems to be quite aware of this. 
It does not have to promise a good book, a well-written and 
well-performed play, an entertaining or amusing movie. It suffices 
to say that the book, the play, the movie will be the talk of the 
town, of the next party, of one's friends. To have been there, 
to be able to say that one has been present at the performance, 
to have read the book even when one is unable to have the 
slightest personal reaction to it, is quite sufficient. But while 
Midas suffered tortures of starvation, the people under whose 
eyes every experience turns into a barren cliche do not know 
that they starve. Their starvation manifests itself merely in bore- 
dom or in restless activity and incapacity of any real enjoyment. 
Memory is even more governed by conventional patterns than 
perception and experience are. One might say that, while all 
human experience, perception, and thought are eminently social 
that is determined by the socially prevailing ways of experienc- 
ing, perceiving, and thinking memory is even more socialized, 
to an even higher degree dependent on the commonly accepted 
categories of what and how one remembers. "Rationalization," 
as psycho-analytic theory knows it, is but one type of such trans- 
formation of actual experience into individually and socially 
acceptable cliches. One important reason why memory is even 
more susceptible than experience and perception to such conven- 
tionalization is that experience and perception always are in some, 
however flimsy, immediate relation to the situation experienced, 
the object perceived, while memory is distant from it in time and 
space. The object of memory has less chance than the objects of 
experience and perception have to penetrate and do away with 
part of that glass, colored and ground by the social mores and 
viewpoints, through which man sees everything or fails to see it. 
Memory is a distance sense, as it were, and to an even greater 
degree than the two other distance senses, vision and hearing 
less immediately related to its objects than the proximity senses 
of smell, taste, and touch, and more influenced and moulded by 
the categories of the mind. Also like sight and hearing, only more 

On Memory and Childhood Amnesia 213 

so, memory is a phylogenetically and ontogenetically more dif- 
ferentiated, later, and more "spiritual" development than smell, 
taste, and touch. All this predestines memory to lose contact with 
actual experience and to substitute preformed, conventional pat- 
terns of thought for it. And, as will be seen later, it has significant 
bearing especially on the problem of early childhood amnesia. 

It is safe to assume that early childhood is the period of human 
life which is richest in experience. Everything is new to the new- 
born child. His gradual grasp of his environment and of the world 
around him are discoveries which, in experiential scope and 
quality, go far beyond any discovery that the most adventurous 
and daring explorer will ever make in his adult life. No Colum- 
bus, no Marco Polo has ever seen stranger and more fascinating 
and thoroughly absorbing sights than the child that learns to 
perceive, to taste, to smell, to touch, to hear and see, and to use 
his body, his senses, and his mind. No wonder that the child 
shows an insatiable curiosity. He has the whole world to discover. 
Education and learning, while on the one hand furthering this 
process of discovery, on the other hand gradually brake and 
finally stop it completely. There are relatively few adults who 
are fortunate enough to have retained something of the child's 
curiosity, his capacity for questioning and for wondering. The 
average adult "knows all the answers," which is exactly why he 
will never know even a single answer. He has ceased to wonder, 
to discover. He knows his way around, and it is indeed a way 
around and around the same conventional pattern, in which 
everything is familiar and nothing cause for wonder. It is this 
adult who answers the child's questions and, in answering, fails 
to answer them but instead acquaints the child with the conven- 
tional patterns of his civilization, which effectively close up the 
asking mouth and shut the wondering eye. Franz Kafka once 
formulated this aspect of education by saying that "probably all 
education is but two things, first, parrying of the ignorant chil- 
dren's impetuous assault on the truth and, second, gentle, imper- 
ceptible, step-by-step initiation of the humiliated children into the 

Most children go through a period of endless questioning. 

214 Ernest G. Schachtel 

While at first they desire an answer, gradually their search turns 
into an almost automatic repetition of the same seemingly sense- 
less question or into the related ritual of countering every answer 
with a new question. It is as though the child no longer really 
expected or perhaps wanted to obtain information by this type of 
questioning, but expressed only the last stubborn assault against 
the unbroken wall of adult "answers." The child has already al- 
most forgotten what he wanted to know, but he still knows that 
he wanted to know and did not receive an answer. The automatic 
questioning may have the unconscious purpose of driving this 
point home to the adult. It is chiefly during the period of early 
childhood that the quality of the world around him changes for 
the growing child from a place where everything is new and to be 
explored to be tasted, smelled, touched and handled, wondered 
about and marveled at to a place where everything either has 
received a name and a label or is potentially capable of being 
"explained" by such a label, a process which will be pursued sys- 
tematically in school. No experience, no object perceived with the 
quality of freshness, newness, of something wonder-full, can be 
preserved and recalled by the conventional concept of that object 
as designated in its conventional name in language. Even if, in 
modern western civilization, the capacity for such fresh experi- 
ence has largely been deadened, most people, unless they have 
become complete automatons, have had glimpses of the exhila- 
rating quality that makes fresh experience, unlabeled, so unique, 
concrete, and filled with life. They can realize, if their attention 
is called to it, the great difference between such experience and 
one which merely registers the label of things seen, the furniture 
of the room, the familiar faces, the houses on the street. Yet this 
difference is small when compared with the difference that sepa- 
rates the young child's fresh experience and discoveries from the 
adult's recognition of the familiar cliches into which the auto- 
matic labeling of perception and language has transformed the 
objects around him. Since adult memory functions predominantly 
in terms of recalling cliches, the conventional schemata of things 
and experiences rather than the things and experiences them- 
selves, it becomes apparent how ill-equipped, in fact incapable, 
such conventionalized memory is to recall the experiences of 

On Memory and Childhood Amnesia 215 

early childhood in their freshness, in the real significance which 
they had at that time. The age of discovery, early childhood, h 
buried deep under the age of routine familiarity, adulthood. 

The process of schematization and conventionalization and its 
effect on the raw material of experience, especially childhood 
experience, can be well observed in two of its specific develop- 
ments which take place as the child learns to make use of his 
senses and to speak. Language, in its articulating and its obscur- 
ing function, may be considered first since the adult, too, en- 
counters the problem of the incompatibility of experience with 
language and the consequent forgetting of experience or its distor- 
tion by the cliche of language. The fact that language is adult 
language, the language of an adult civilization, and that the in- 
fant and small child is moulded only very gradually from its 
natural existence into a member of the civilization into which it 
is born makes the discrepancy between his precivilized, unsche- 
matized experience and the categories of civilized, conventional 
language much greater. Yet between this discrepancy and that 
existing between the adult's experience and his language, there 
is a difference of degree rather than of kind. Everyone who has 
honestly tried to describe some genuine experience exactly, how- 
ever small and insignificant it may have seemed, knows how diffi- 
cult if not impossible that is. One might well say that the greatest 
problem of the writer or the poet is the temptation of language. 
At every step a word beckons, it seems so convenient, so suitable, 
one has heard or read it so often in a similar context, it sounds 
so well, it makes the phrase flow so smoothly. If he follows the 
temptation of this word, he will perhaps describe something that 
many people recognize at once, that they already know, that fol- 
lows a familiar pattern; but he will have missed the nuance that 
distinguishes his experience from others, that makes it his own. If 
he wants to communicate that elusive nuance which in some way, 
however small, will be his contribution, a widening or opening of 
the scope of articulate human experience at some point, he has to 
fight constantly against the easy flow of words that offer them- 
selves. Like the search for truth, which never reaches its goal yet 
never can be abandoned, the endeavor to articulate, express, and 

216 Ernest G. Schachtel 

communicate an experience can never succeed completely. It con- 
sists of an approach, step by step, toward that distant vantage 
point, that bend of the road from which one hopes to see the 
real experience in its entirety and from where it will become visi- 
ble to others a point which is never reached. The lag, the dis- 
crepancy between experience and word is a productive force in 
man as long as he remains aware of it, as long as he knows and 
feels that his experience was in some way more than and differ- 
ent from what his concepts and words articulate. The awareness 
of this unexplored margin of experience, which may be its essen- 
tial part, can turn into that productive energy which enables man 
to go one step closer to understanding and communicating his 
experience, and thus add to the scope of human insight. It is this 
awareness and the struggle and the ability to narrow the gap 
between experience and words which make the writer and the 

Two major trends operate in the direction of the eventual out- 
come of early childhood amnesia. First, the schemata for articu- 
late experience and for recall of such experience are relatively 
slow and late in developing. They are entirely lacking in the 
earliest period of life and one could say generally that as they 
develop, experience gradually loses its character of newness and 
acquires the quality of familiarity and recognition. The tremen- 
dous amount of experience which the small child undergoes does 
not, therefore, find a proportionate variety of suitable vessels 
(schemata) for its preservation. Second, the quality of early 
childhood experience does not fit into the developing schemata 
of experience, thought, and memory since these are fashioned by 
the adult culture and all its biases, emphases, and taboos. 

Both these trends become even more apparent if one considers 
them in connection with the development of the senses in the 
child. Such a consideration also shows how closely biological and 
cultural factors are interwoven in the causation of early child- 
hood amnesia and how difficult, if not impossible, it is to draw a 
clear borderline between the two. What might have been a cul- 
tural factor in man's prehistory may well seem to the present 
observer like a biological development. Phylogenetically as well 
as ontogenetically the distance senses, sight and hearing, attain 

On Memory and Childhood Amnesia 217 

their full development later than the proximity senses, smell, taste, 
and touch. Sight and hearing are more highly differentiated and 
more closely linked up with the human mind than smell, taste, 
and touch. The latter senses, especially smell and taste, are 
neglected and to a considerable extent even tabooed by western 
civilization. They are the animalistic senses par excellence. Man, 
who has been engaged for thousands of years in a battle for con- 
trol and mastery of nature outside and inside himself, especially 
western man, does not want to be reminded that he is not only 
man but also nature, also animal. Because of the cultural taboo 
on smell and taste smell even more than taste, but the two are 
inseparable it is even possible for the adult to realize clearly the 
effect which the discrepancy between experience on the one 
hand, and language and memory schemata, on the other hand, has 
on the capacity for recall, especially voluntary recall. English 
vocabulary, and equally the vocabulary of the other western lan- 
guages, is conspicuously poor in words for the description of 
smells and tastes. Even when it comes to the flavor of wine or 
of a dish, in spite of the great material and historical role 
of drinking and eating, language is quite incapable of expressing 
any but the crudest differences, in taste. A wine is said to be dry, 
sweet, robust, fine, full and so on, but none of these words enables 
one to imagine the flavor and bouquet of the wine. Compared 
with this poverty of words, the vocabulary for the description of 
the visible world and its forms and colors is much richer. Even 
poetry has never succeeded in conjuring the flavor of a smell or 
taste, although it sometimes enables the imagination to evoke 
a visual image. For these reasons, the experience schemata for 
smell and taste sensations are relatively undeveloped. This is 
true even more of the memory schemata. A taste or a smell is 
usually remembered only involuntarily; that is, the former experi- 
ence may be recognized by renewed encounter with the same 
stimulus. But it is difficult or impossible for most people to recall 
voluntarily the taste of a particular wine or the smell of a par- 
ticular flower, animal, or person. In fact, most people are hardly 
aware of the differences in smell of different, people. 

Both pleasure and disgust are more intimately linked with the 
proximity senses than with the distance senses. The pleasure 

2ig Ernest G. Schachtel 

which a perfume, a taste, or a texture can give is much more of 
a bodily, physical one, hence also more akin to sexual pleasure, 
than is the more sublime pleasure aroused by sound and the least 
bodily of all pleasures, the sight of something beautiful No other 
sense produces the emotion of disgust more easily and violently 
and provokes reactions of nausea and vomiting more readily 
than the olfactory sense. The infant is not disgusted by his feces; 
he quite likes their smell. Very many, if not most adults do not 
have the reaction of disgust to the smell of their own excretions; 
many do not show it with regard to the body odor or the excre- 
tions of a beloved person. As everybody knows, animals, espe- 
cially dogs, are best able to tell one person from another and one 
dog from another by body and excretion smell. The infant, long 
before he knows and remembers how his mother looks, knows 
how she smells and tastes. Very likely, angry or frightened 
mother tastes and smells rather different from good or com- 
fortable mother to the infant, just as she will look very different 
to him as he grows older. 8 In his growing experience of the world 
around him, the proximity senses at first have primacy over the 
distance senses. He tastes and sniffs and touches earlier and 
better than he perceives with eye and ear. In order to get really 
acquainted with something or somebody, he has to touch it and 
to put it in his mouth as he first did with his mother's nipple. 
Only very gradually and slowly does the emphasis shift from 
the proximity to the distance senses. This partly biological and 
phylogenetically determined shift is helped along powerfully and 
the development of taste and smell discouraged by the stringent 
taboos of the significant adults, who do not want baby to take 
everything in his mouth and who drastically and persistently in 
cleanliness education show their disgust with the most impor- 
tant objects of smell, those of the body and its excretions, so that 
the child cannot but feel that he has to refrain not only from the 
pleasure given by body and excretion odors but even from the 

8 Groddeck, speaking about the paramount importance of the sense of 
smell in infancy and early childhood, asserts that,, even more than the dog, 
the child judges people and objects largely by their smell and, since the 
child is small or is being held on the lap, this means chiefly the smell ot 
legs, lap, sexual and excretory organs. Groddeck, G., The World of Man; 
The C. W. Daniel Company, London 1934; > 132. 

On Memory and Childhood Amnesia 219 

discriminating perception of them. The proximity senses, which 
play such a great role in relations between animals and, if not 
repressed, in the sexual relations of man, are otherwise tabooed 
in interpersonal relations the more a culture or a group tends to 
isolate people, to put distance between them, and to prevent 
spontaneous relationships and the "natural" animal-like expres- 
sions of such relations. The emphasis on distance and the taboo 
on smell in modern society is more outspoken in the ruling than 
in the laboring class, distance being also a means of domination 
and of imposing authority. Disgust arises where the repression 
has not succeeded completely and a powerful deterrent is needed 
in order to bolster it. 9 

In one other area of life, namely in the realm of dreams, one 
finds a general amnesia, although it is not quite so pervasive as 
that pertaining to early childhood. A closer study of the recall 
of dreams and especially of the period of awakening from a 
dream, when quite often one can observe its disappearance from 
memory or its transformation or fragmentation, may therefore 
add to, disprove, or corroborate the hypotheses developed so far. 
It is probable that the majority of dreams are not remembered 
at all. A great many others are recalled in fragments only. Of 
those that are still remembered at the time of awakening, very 
many are forgotten in the course of the day, quite often in the 
first few minutes or the first hour of beginning the daily activities 
of rising, getting dressed, and so on. The relatively small propor- 
tion of dreams surviving in memory undergo a rapid transforma- 
tion and fragmentation and usually they, too, are forgotten after 
a few days. If they are not forgotten, they lose increasingly their 
peculiar dream quality, and the peculiar language of the dream 
changes in the direction of conventionalization and rationaliza- 
tion. The dreams that make such a profound impression on the 
dreamer that they survive all these obstacles, although not with- 
out some damage, are rare indeed. Thus the question arises: What 
are the causes of this usual, general dream-amnesia? Why does 

8 Something of the importance of the deeply rooted taboo on smell in 
western man conies to the surface in the vituperative and hateful use that is 
made of body odor in interracial conflicts. 

220 Ernest G. Schachtet 

one forget by far the greater part of his mental life going on dur- 
ing sleep, a life that in most people, judging from the fragments 
recalled, seems to be far more original, interesting, spontaneous, 
and creative than their waking life? It shares these latter qualities 
with early childhood which, from all one can observe, seems to 
be the most fascinating, spontaneous, original, and creative period 
in the life of most or perhaps of all people. Is it because of these 
qualities that the conventionalized memory schemata cannot re- 
produce the great majority of dreams and their real character? 

Freud devotes a whole section of The Interpretation of Dreams 
to the problem of the forgetting of dreams. His purpose in this 
section is to defend the validity of dream interpretation against 
the objection that one does not really know his dreams because he 
either forgets or distorts them. Freud's answer to the problem is 
that the "forgetting of dreams depends far more on the resistance 
[to the dream thought] than on the mutually alien character of 
the waking and sleeping states" and that the distortion of the 
dream in recalling or recounting it is "the secondary and often 
misunderstanding elaboration of the dream by the agency of 
normal thinking" and thus "no more than a part of the elabora- 
tion to which dream thoughts are constantly subjected as a result 
of the dream-censorship." I think that the question should be 
raised whether "resistance" and "mutually alien character of the 
waking and sleeping states" are really, as Freud seems to assume, 
mutually exclusive and contradictory explanations of dream 
amnesia and dream distortion by waking thought. Or whether, 
as I believe, "resistance" is operative in the awake person, not 
only against the dream thought but against the whole quality and 
language of the dream, a resistance, to be sure, of a somewhat 
different character, yet fundamentally related to that which re- 
presses and censors those dream thoughts which are intolerable 
for consciousness. 

In sleep and dream, man's activity in the outer world is sus- 
pended, especially his motor activity. Attention and perception 
are withdrawn from outer reality. The necessity to cope with the 
environment is interrupted for the duration of sleep. The stringent 
rules of logic and reason subside rules which during waking life 
are geared to useful, rational, adaptative, conventional control 

On Memory and Childhood Amnesia 221 

of behavior and thought. The psyche receives leave, for the 
period of sleep, from the demands of active life in society. As 
Freud expresses it, endopsychic censorship is reduced. And the 
psyche makes good use of this short leave from the demands of 
reality. Its productions, seen from the usual, realistic viewpoint, 
seem utterly useless. It is true that other, older civilizations did 
not always share this viewpoint, but attributed considerable im- 
portance to dreams, sometimes greater importance than to waking 
thought. But measured with the yardstick of modern western 
civilization with its emphasis on useful, efficient production and 
work, dreams are really quite useless. 

During sleep motor activity, most essential for dealing with 
the outer reality of objects and people, is reduced to a minimum. 
The dream is a mental production without any conscious effort 
and one in which the dreamer passively gives in to the images 
evoked by his phantasy. In that sense the dream is the opposite 
of work as it is known to western civilization, the opposite of 
efficiency. When awakening, it is often possible to catch hold of a 
dream [as Rorschach has pointed out] if one lies perfectly still 
and does not open his eyes. But the first movement, especially 
an active one like jumping out of bed, will very often chase the 
dream into oblivion. In other words, the return to the outer 
world through motor activity and reshifting of attention and 
perception to the environment leads to forgetting of the dream. 
This process is a quite general one and, as far as I have been able 
to observe, bears no relation to specific dream content. Therefore 
it seems to stem from the incompatibility of the extroversive atti- 
tude of waking with the introversive attitude of dreaming, rather 
than from resistance to specific strivings which are expressed 
in the dream thoughts. The antagonism between motor activity 
and dream recall brings to mind Proust's words, that he could 
recapture his former being only "dehors de Faction, de la jouis- 
sance immediate" and that in such a moment he did not dare to 
budge lest he lose the refound memory of the past. 

But even without the described effect of the resumption of 
motor activity on the voluntary recall of dreams, it seems obvious 
that the experience and memory schemata developed and formed 
by man's life in his society are much less suitable to preserve the 

222 Ernest G. Schachtel 

phantastic world of the dream than to recall conventional waking 
experience. The awakening mind has to cope again with outer 
reality, and to this end has to remobilize all the patterns and 
schemata useful for, and developed by, the conventional social 
forms of life and work. Attention has to be paid to the environ- 
ment. And the attitude of attention Is to the mind what purpose- 
ful motor activity is to the body. 

In the forgetting and distortion of dreams during waking life 
it is important to distinguish between that which is due to the 
resistance to and repression of a specific dream thought or dream 
content and that which is due to the incapacity of the conven- 
tional memory schemata to retain the phantastic general quality 
and the strange language of dreams. The distortion of a dream 
thought which resistance wants to keep from awareness has to 
be distinguished from the process of conventionalization which, 
more or less, all dream elements undergo because the medium of 
the dream language is incompatible with the medium of the con- 
ventional world of waking life. In the degree of this incompati- 
bility there are, of course, considerable variations between differ- 
ent people and, even more so, between different cultures. But 
modern western civilization with its streamlined efficiency, uni- 
form mass culture, and emphasis on usefulness in terms of 
profitable, material production is particularly and strikingly at 
the opposite pole from the world of dreams. 

The hidden quality of lost memories, their separation from the 
rest of life, their inaccessibility, and their incompatibility with 
voluntary memory and with conventional, purposeful, daily ac- 
tivity are described lucidly by Proust. He compares the recesses 
of the lost memories to a thousand vases distributed on the vari- 
ous altitudes of the past years of one's life, filled with the particu- 
lar atmosphere of that period of his life, and containing some- 
times a gesture, a word, an insignificant act which, however, may 
be the key to the recapturing of the lost experiences, the lost past 
of his life. According to him, the very fact that the experience, 
the past time, has been forgotten and thus has remained isolated 
as at the bottom of a valley or on the peak of a summit, gives it 
an incomparable air of freshness and aliveness when it is re- 

On Memory and Childhood Amnesia 223 

covered, because it has not been able to form any link -with the 
present. In other words, it has not been distorted by the memory 
schemata, by the needs and fears of the present, by the routine of 
daily life. Proust's view, here, is almost identical with that of 
Freud, whose theory of memory postulates that only that which 
is unconscious can leave a permanent memory trace and that 
"becoming conscious and leaving behind a memory trace are 
processes incompatible with each other in the same system." 10 
In Proust's work the recovery of the forgotten past is character- 
ized as the supreme satisfaction, carrying with it a sense of 
exhilarating happiness and constituting the very core of the work 
of art. This is not the place to discuss the profound meaning of 
his evaluation which, three thousand years after the Greek myth, 
again celebrates memory as the mother of art and poetry. Be it 
sufficient to say that in the conflict of modern society between 
efficient adaptation and activity, on the one hand, and the preser- 
vation and recovery of the total personality, which to him seems 
possible only by the fullest awareness of the individual past, 
Proust sides against his society and with the "lost paradises" of 
his own past. And it is true that each genuine recovery of for- 
gotten experience and, with it, something of the person that one 
was when having the experience carries with it an element of 
enrichment, adds to the light of consciousness, and thus widens 
the conscious scope of one's life. 

Cultures vary in the degree to which they impose cliches on 
experience and memory. The more a society develops in the 
direction of mass conformism, whether such development be 
achieved by a totalitarian pattern or within a democratic frame- 
work by means of the employment market, education, the pat- 
terns of social life, advertising, press, radio, movies, best-sellers, 
and so on, the more stringent becomes the rule of the conven- 
tional experience and memory schemata in the lives of the mem- 
bers of that society. In the history of the last hundred years of 
western civilization the conventional schematization of experi- 

10 Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, The International Psycho-analytical 
Press, London 1922; p. 28. See also, The Interpretation of Dreams, Basic 
Writings, pp. 488-491. 

224 Ernest G. Schachtel 

ence and memory has become increasingly prevalent at an accel- 
erating pace. 

Mankind's belief in a lost paradise is repeated in the belief held 
by most people, in the individual myth of their happy childhood. 
Like most myths this one contains elements of both truth and 
illusion, is woven out of wishes, hopes, remembrance and sor- 
row, and hence has more than one meaning. One finds this 
belief even in people who have undergone cruel experiences as 
children and who had, without being or remaining aware of it, 
a childhood with hardly any love and affection from their parents. 
No doubt, one reason for the myth of happy childhood is that 
it bolsters parental authority and maintains a conventional prop 
of the authority of the family by asserting that one's parents were 
good and benevolent people who did everything for the good of 
their children, however much they may have done against it. And 
disappointed and suffering people, people without hope, want to 
believe that at least once there was a time in their life when they 
were happy. But the myth of happy childhood reflects also the 
truth that as in the myth of paradise lost, there was a time be- 
fore animalistic innocence was lost, before pleasure-seeking nature 
and pleasure-forbidding culture clashed in the battle called educa- 
tion, a battle in which the child always is the loser. At no time is 
life so exclusively and directly governed by the pleasure principle 
as it is in early infancy; at no other time is man, especially 
civilized man, capable of abandoning himself so completely to 
pleasure and satisfaction. The myth of happy childhood takes the 
place of the lost memory of the actual riches, spontaneity, fresh- 
ness of childhood experience, an experience which has been for- 
gotten because there is no place for it in the adult memory 

Childhood amnesia covers those aspects and experiences of the 
former personality which are incompatible with the culture. If 
they were remembered, man would demand that society affirm 
and accept the total personality with all its potentialities. In a 
society based on partial suppression of the personality such a 
demand, even the mere existence of a really free personality, 
would constitute a threat to the society. Hence it becomes neces- 
sary for the society that the remembrance of a time in which the 

On Memory and Childhood Amnesia 225 

potentialities of a fuller, freer, and more spontaneous life were 
strongly present and alive be extinguished. In memory's service 
of this purpose one may distinguish two processes which over- 
lap and shade into one another. One process leaves the culturally 
unacceptable or unusable experiences and the memory thereof to 
starvation by the expedient of providing no linguistic, conceptual, 
and memory schemata for them and by channeling later experi- 
ence into the experience schemata of the culture. As the person, 
in the process of education, gradually comes to live more and 
more exclusively within the framework of the culturally and con- 
ventionally provided experience schemata, there is less and less 
to remind him of the possibility of trans-schematic experience. 

Compared with this process, the dynamism of the taboo and of 
repression of individually or culturally tabooed experience and 
strivings is like the nightstick of the policeman compared with the 
gradual, slow, insinuating process of education in which some 
things are just not mentioned and others said to be for the best 
of the child. But the dynamism active in normal amnesia is even 
more subtle than what is usually called education. It is an educa- 
tion of which the educators are not aware and of which the child 
is too helpless and too inarticulate to have more than the vaguest 
feeling that something is happening to him. On the other hand, 
those strivings, qualities, and potentialities of the child which are 
too strong to be left behind to die by the side of the road of edu* 
cation and which endanger the current social and cultural pattern 
have to be battled by the more drastic means of taboo and repres- 
sion. In this sphere sexuality and the conflict with parental auv 
thority play central roles. One might say that taboo and repres* 
sion are the psychological cannons of society against the child 
and against man, whereas in normal amnesia society uses the 
method of blockade and slow starvation against those experiences 
and memories which do not fit into the cultural pattern and which 
do not equip man for his role in the social process. The two 
methods of warfare supplement each other and, in the siege con- 
ducted by society against the human potentialities and inclina- 
tions which transcend the cultural pattern, the cannon helps to 
maintain the blockade, and the blockade and ensuing starvation 
make it less necessary to use the cannon. 

226 Ernest G. Schachte! 

Hesiod tells us that Lethe (Forgetting) is the daughter of Eris 
(Strife). 11 Amnesia, normal and pathological, is indeed the 
daughter of conflict, the conflict between nature and society and 
the conflict in society, the conflict between society and man and 
the conflict within man. Lethe is the stream of the underworld, 
of forgetting, the stream which constantly flows and never retains. 
In the realm of Lethe dwell the Danai'des, who are condemned 
eternally to pour water into a leaking vessel. Plato interprets this 
as the punishment of those unwise souls who leak, who cannot 
remember and are therefore always empty. 12 

But Mnemosyne is an older and more powerful goddess than 
Lethe. According to Hesiod she was one of the six Titanesses 
from whom all gods stem. And it was one of the world-founding 
deeds of Zeus that he begot the muses on her. Memory cannot be 
entirely extinguished in man, his capacity for experience cannot 
be entirely suppressed by schematization. It is in those experi- 
ences which transcend the cultural schemata, in those memories 
of experience which transcend the conventional memory sche- 
mata, that every new insight and every true work of art have 
their origin, and that the hope of progress, of a widening of the 
scope of human endeavor and human life, is founded. 

11 Hesiod, Theogony, 227. 

Plato, Gorgias, 493 c 2. For the mythology of Mnemosyne and Lethe, 
see Kerenyi, Karl, Mnemosyne-Lesmosyne, in Die Geburt der Helena; Rhein 
Verlag, Zuerich 1945. 



Toys and Reasons* 

I would look at a play act as, vaguely speaking, a function oi 
the ego, an attempt to bring into synchronization the bodily and 
the social processes of which one is a part even while one is a 
self. ... To hallucinate ego mastery is the purpose of play 
but play, as we shall see presently, is the undisputed master of 
only a very slim margin of existence. What is play and what 
is it not? Let us consult language, and then return to chil- 
dren. . . . 

When man plays he must intermingle with the laws of things 
and people in a similarly uninvolved and light fashion. He must 
do something which he has chosen to do without being com- 
pelled by urgent interests or impelled by strong passion; he must 
feel entertained and free of any fear or hope of serious conse- 
quences. He is on vacation from reality or, as is most commonly 
emphasized: he does not work. It is this opposition to work 
which gives play a number of connotations. One of these is 
"mere fun" whether it is hard to do or not. As Mark Twain 
commented, "constructing artificial flowers ... is work, while 
climbing the Mont Blanc is only amusement." In Puritan times 
and places, however, mere fun always connoted sin; the Quak- 
ers warned that you must "gather the flowers of pleasure 
in the fields of duty." Men of equally puritan mind could permit 
play only because they believed that to find "relief from moral 
activity is in itself a moral necessity." Poets, however, place the 

* Reprinted from Childhood and Society by Erik H. Erikson, by permission 
of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Copyright 1950 by W. W. Norton & 
Company, Inc. 


228 Erik H. Erikson 

emphasis elsewhere: "Man is perfectly human only when he 
plays," said Schiller. Thus play is a borderline phenomenon to 
a number of human activities and, in its own playful way, it 
tries to elude definition. 

It is true that even the most strenuous and dangerous play is 
by definition not work, i.e., does not produce commodities. 
Where it does, it "goes professional." But this fact, from the 
start, makes the comparison of adult and child's play somewhat 
senseless; for the adult is a commodity -producing and com- 
modity-exchanging animal, whereas the child is only preparing 
to become one. To the working adult, play is re-creation. It 
permits a periodical stepping out from those forms of defined 
limitation which are his reality. . . . 

The playing child, then, poses a problem: whoever does not 
work shall not play. Therefore, to be tolerant of the child's play 
the adult must invent theories which show either that childhood 
play is really work or that it does not count. The most popular 
theory and the easiest on the observer is that the child is nobody 
yet, and that the nonsense of his play reflects it. Scientists have 
tried to find other explanation for the freaks of childish play by 
considering them representative of the fact that childhood is 
neither here nor there. According to Spencer, play uses up surplus 
energy in the young of a number of mammalians who do not 
need to feed or protect themselves because their parents do it 
for them. However, Spencer noticed that wherever circumstances 
permit play, tendencies are "simulated" which are "unusually 
ready to act, unusually ready to have their correlative feelings 
aroused." Early psychoanalysis added to this the "cathartic" 
theory, according to which play has a definite function in the 
growing being in that it permits him to work off past emotions 
and to find imaginary relief for past frustrations. 

In order to evaluate these theories, let us turn to the game of 
another, a younger boy. He lived near another mighty river, the 
Danube, and his play was recorded by another great psychologist, 
Sigmund Freud, who wrote: 1 

^Sigmund Freud, A General Selection, edited by John Rickman, The 
Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis, London, 1937. 

Toys and Reasons 229 

Without the Intention of making a comprehensive study of these 
phenomena, I availed myself of an opportunity which offered of 
elucidating the first game invented by himself of a boy eighteen 
months old. It was more than a casual observation, for I lived for 
some weeks under the same roof as the child and his parents, and 
it was a considerable time before the meaning of his puzzling and 
continually repeated performance became clear to me. 

The child was in no respect forward in his intellectual develop- 
ment; . . . but he made himself understood by his parents and the 
maidservant, and had a good reputation for behaving "properly.'" He 
did not disturb his parents at night; he scrupulously obeyed orders 
about not touching various objects and not going into certain rooms; 
and above all he never cried when his mother went out and left him 
for hours together, although the tie to his mother was a very close 
one: she had not only nourished him herself, but had cared for him 
and brought him up without any outside help. Occasionally, however, 
this well-behaved child evinced the troublesome habit of flinging 
into the corner of the room or under the bed all the little things he 
could lay his hands on, so that to gather up his toys was often nc 
light task. He accompanied this by an expression of interest and grati- 
fication, emitting a loud, long-drawn-out "O-o-o-oh" which in the 
judgment of the mother (one that coincided with my own) was not 
an interjection but meant "go away" [fort]. I saw at last that this 
was a game, and that the child used all his toys only to play "being 
gone" \jort setn] with them. One day, I made an observation that 
confirmed my view. The child had a wooden reel with a piece of 
string wound round it. It never occurred to him, for example, to drag 
this after him on the floor and so play horse and cart with it, but he 
kept throwing it with considerable skill, held by the string, over the 
side of his little draped cot, so that the reel disappeared into it, then 
said his significant "O-o-o-oh" and drew the reel by the string out 
of the cot again, greeting its reappearance with a joyful "Da" [there]. 
This was therefore the complete game, disappearance and return, 
the first act being the only one generally observed by the onlookers, 
and the one untiringly repeated by the child as a game for its own 
sake, although the greater pleasure unquestionably attached to the 
second act. . . . This interpretation was fully established by a fur- 
ther observation. One day when the mother had been out for some 
hours she was greeted on her return by the information "Baby o-o-o- 
oh" which at first remained unintelligible. It soon proved that during 
his long lonely hours he had found a method of bringing about his 

230 Erik H. Erikson 

own disappearance. He had discovered his reflection in the long mirror 
which nearly reached to the ground and had then crouched down in 
front of it, so that the reflection was fort. 

To understand what Freud saw in this game we must note 
that at the time he was interested in (and, in fact, writing about) 
the strange phenomenon of the "repetition compulsion" i.e., the 
aeed to re-enact painful experiences in words or acts. . . . 

As Freud was writing about this, he became aware of the 
solitary play described and of the fact that the frequency of 
the main theme (something or somebody disappears and comes 
back) corresponded to the intensity of the life experience re- 
flected namely, the mother's leaving in the morning and her 
return at night. 

This dramatization takes place in the play sphere. Utilizing 
his mastery over objects, the child can arrange them in such 
a way that they permit him to imagine that he is master of his 
life predicament as well. For when the mother had left him, 
she had removed herself from the sphere of his cries and de- 
mands; and she had come back only when it happened to suit 
her. In his game, however, the little boy has the mother by a 
string. He makes her go away, even throws her away, and then 
makes her come back at his pleasure. He has, as Freud put it, 
turned passivity into activity; he plays at doing something that 
was in reality done to him. 

Freud mentions three items which may guide us in a further 
social evaluation of this game. First, the child threw the object 
away. Freud sees in this a possible expression of revenge "If 
you don't want to stay with me, I don't want you" and thus 
an additional gain in active mastery by an apparent growth of 
emotional autonomy. In his second play act, however, the child 
goes further. He abandons the object altogether and, with the 
use of a full-length mirror, plays "going away" from himself and 
returning to himself. He is now both the person who is being 
left and the person who leaves. He has become master by in- 
corporating not only the person who, in life, is beyond his control, 
but the whole situation, with both its partners. . . . 

But does the child's play so a frequent question goes always 

Toys and Reasons 231 

"mean" something personal and sinister? What if ten children, 
in horse-and-buggy days, begin to play with reels on strings, 
pulling them behind themselves and playing horsie? Must it 
mean anything to one of them over and beyond what it seems 
to mean to all? 

As we have said already, children, if traumatized, choose for 
their dramatizations play material which is available in their 
culture and manageable at their age. What is available depends 
on the cultural circumstances and is therefore common to all 
children who share these circumstances. Boys today do not play 
steamboat but use bicycles as more tangible objects of co- 
ordination which does not prevent them from imagining, on 
the way to school or the grocery, that they are flying through 
the air and machine-gunning the enemy; or that they are the 
Lone Ranger himself on a glorious Silver. What is manageable, 
however, depends on the child's powers of co-ordination, and 
therefore is shared only by those who have reached a certain 
level of maturation. What has a common meaning to all the 
children in a community (i.e., the idea of having a reel and 
string represent a living thing on a leash) may have a special 
meaning to some (i.e., all those who have just learned to manipu- 
late reel and string and may thus be ready to enter a new sphere 
of participation and communal symbolization) . Yet all of this 
may have, in addition, a unique meaning to individual children 
who have lost a person or an animal and therefore endow the 
game with a particular significance. What these children "have 
by the string" is not just any animal it is the personification of 
a particular, a significant, and a lost animal or person. To 
evaluate play the observer must, of course, have an idea of what 
all the children of a given age in a given community are apt to 
play. Only thus can he decide whether or not the unique mean- 
ing transcends the common meaning. To understand the unique 
meaning itself requires careful observation, not only of the play's 
content and form, but also of accompanying words and visible 
affects, especially those which lead to what we shall describe in 
the next chapter as "play disruption." 

In order to approach the problem of anxiety in play, let us con- 
sider the activity of building and destroying a tower. Many a 

232 Eri k H - Erikson 

mother thinks that her little son is in a "destructive stage" or 
even has a "destructive personality" because, after building a 
big, big tower, the boy cannot follow her advice to leave the 
tower for Daddy to see, but instead must kick it and make it 
collapse. The almost manic pleasure with which children watch 
the collapse in a second of the product of long play labor has 
puzzled many, especially since the child does not appreciate it 
at all if his tower falls by accident or by a helpful uncle's hand. 
He, the builder, must destroy it himself. This game, I should 
think, arises from the not so distant experience of sudden falls 
at the very time when standing upright on wobbly legs afforded 
a new and fascinating perspective on existence. The child who 
consequently learns to make a tower "stand up" enjoys causing 
the same tower to waver and collapse: in addition to the active 
mastery over a previously passive event, it makes one feel 
stronger to know that there is somebody weaker and towers, 
unlike little sisters, can't cry and call Mummy. But since it is 
the child's still precarious mastery over space which is thus to be 
demonstrated, it is understandable that watching somebody else 
kick one's tower may make the child see himself in the tower 
rather than in the kicker: all fun evaporates. Circus clowns later 
take over when they obligingly fall all over the place from mere 
ineptness, and yet continue to challenge gravity and causality 
with ever renewed innocence: there are, then, even big people 
who are funnier, dumber, and wobblier. Some children, how- 
ever, who find themselves too much identified with the clown 
cannot stand his downfalls: to them they are "not funny." This 
example throws light on the beginning of many an anxiety in 
childhood, where anxiety around the child's attempt at ego 
mastery finds unwelcome "support" from adults who treat him 
roughly or amuse him with exercises which he likes only if and 
when he himself has initiated them. 

The child's play begins with and centers on his own body. This 
we shall call autocosmic play. It begins before we notice it as 
play, and consists at first in the exploration by repetition of sen- 
sual perceptions, of kinesthetic sensations, of vocalizations, etc. 
Next, the child plays with available persons and things. He may 
playfully cry to see what wave length would serve best to make 

Toys and Reasons 233 

the mother reappear, or he may indulge in experimental ex- 
cursions on her body and on the protrusions and orifices of her 
face. This is the child's first geography, and the basic maps ac- 
quired in such interplay with the mother no doubt remain guides 
for the ego's first orientation in the "world." . . . 

The microsphere i.e., the small world of manageable toys 
is a harbor which the child establishes, to return to when he needs 
to overhaul his ego. But the thing-world has its own laws: it 
may resist reconstruction, or it may simply break to pieces; it 
may prove to belong to somebody else and be subject to con- 
fiscation by superiors. Often the microsphere seduces the child 
into an unguarded expression of dangerous themes and attitudes 
which arouse anxiety and lead to sudden play disruption. This 
is the counterpart in waking life of the anxiety dream; it can keep 
children from trying to play just as the fear of night terror can 
keep them from going to sleep. If thus frightened or disappointed 
in the microsphere, the child may regress into the autosphere, 
day-dreaming, thumb-sucking, masturbating. On the other hand, 
if the first use of the thing-world is successful and is guided 
properly, the pleasure of mastering toy things becomes associ- 
ated with the mastery of the traumata which were projected on 
them, and with the prestige gained through such mastery. 

Finally, at nursery-school age playfulness reaches into the 
macrosphere, the world shared with others. First these others are 
treated as things, are inspected, run into, or forced to "be horsie," 
Learning is necessary in order to discover what potential play 
content can be admitted only to fantasy or only to autocosmic 
play; what content can be successfully represented only in the 
microcosmic world of toys and things; and what content can 
be shared with others and forced upon them. 

As this is learned, each sphere is endowed with its own sense 
of reality and mastery. For quite a while, then, solitary play re- 
mains an indispensable harbor for the overhauling of shattered 
emotions after periods of rough going in the social seas. This, and 
the fact that a child can be counted upon to bring into the 
solitary play arranged for him whatever aspect of his ego has 
been ruffled most, form the fundamental condition for our diag- 
nostic reliance on "play therapy," which will be discussed next 

234 Erik H. Erikson 

What is infantile play, then? We saw that it is not the equiva- 
lent of adult play, that it is not recreation. The playing adult 
steps sideward into another reality; the playing child advances 
forward to new stages of mastery. I propose the theory that 
the child's play is the infantile form of the human ability to 
deal with experience by creating model situations and to master 
reality by experiment and planning. It is in certain phases of 
his work that the adult projects past experience into dimensions 
which seem manageable. In the laboratory, on the stage, and on 
the drawing board, he relives the past and thus relieves leftover 
affects; in reconstructing the model situation, he redeems his 
failures and strengthens his hopes. He anticipates the future from 
the point of view of a corrected and shared past. 

No thinker can do more and no playing child less. As William 
Blake puts it: "The child's toys and the old man's reasons are 
the fruits of the two seasons.'* 

Play and Cure 

Modern play therapy is based on the observation that a child 
made insecure by a secret hate against or fear of the natural 
protectors of his play in family and neighborhood seems able 
to use the protective sanction of an understanding adult to re- 
gain some play peace. Grandmothers and favorite aunts may 
have played that role in the past; its professional elaboration of 
today is the play therapist. The most obvious condition is that 
the child has the toys and the adult for himself, and that sibling 
rivalry, parental nagging, or any kind of sudden interruption 
does not disturb the unfolding of his play intentions, whatever 
they may be. For to "play it out" is the most natural self-healing 
measure childhood affords. 

Let us remember here the simple, if often embarrassing, fact 
that adults, when traumatized, tend to solve their tension by 
"talking it out." They are compelled, repeatedly, to describe the 
painful event: it seems to make them "feel better." Systems de- 
signed to cure the soul or the mind make ritual use of this 
tendency by providing, at regular intervals, an ordained or other- 

Toys and Reasons 235 

wise sanctioned listener who gives his undivided attention, is 
sworn not to censure arbitrarily or to betray, and bestows ab- 
solution by explaining how the individual's problem makes sense 
in some larger context, be it sin, conflict, or disease. The method 
finds its limitations where this "clinical" situation loses the de- 
tachment in which life can be reflected, and itself becomes a 
passionate conflict of dependence and hostility. In psychoanalytic 
terms, the limitation is set by the tendency (especially strong in 
neurotics) to transfer basic conflicts from their original infantile 
setting into every new situation, including the therapeutic one. 
This is what Freud meant when he said that the treatment itself, 
at first, becomes a "transference neurosis." . . . 

This phenomenon of transference in the playing child, as well 
as in the verbalizing adult, marks the point where simple meas- 
ures fail namely, when an emotion becomes so intense that it 
defeats playfulness, forcing an immediate discharge into the 
play and into the relationship with the play observer. The failure 
is characterized by what is to be described here as play disruption 
i.e., the sudden and complete or diffused and slowly spreading 
inability to play. We saw such play disruption occur, on my 
provocation, in Ann's case, when she had to leave me and my 
tempting toys in order to rejoin her mother. Similarly, we saw 
Sam trapped by his overpowering emotions in the middle of a 
game. In both cases we used play as an incidental diagnostic 
tool. I shall now introduce a little girl who, although she came 
for diagnostic purposes only, led me through a full cycle of 
play disruption and play triumph, and thus offered a good 
example of the way in which the ego, flooded by fear, regains 
through transference its synthesizing power. 

Our patient is Mary. She is just three years old. She is a 
somewhat pale brunette, but looks (and is) intelligent, pretty, 
and quite feminine. She is said to be stubborn, babyish, and 
shut-in when disturbed. Recently she has enriched her inven- 
tory of expression by nightmares and by violent anxiety attacks 
in the play group which she has recently joined. All that the 
play group teachers can say is that Mary has a queer way of 
lifting things and has a rigid posture: and that her tension seems 
to increase in connection with the routines of resting and going 

236 Er ik H- Erikson 

to the toilet. With this information at hand we invite Mary to 
our office. 

Maybe a word should be said here about the thoroughly dif- 
ficult situation which ensues when a mother brings a child for 
observation. The child has not chosen to come. He often does 
not feel sick at all in the sense that he has a symptom which he 
wishes to get rid of. On the contrary, all he knows is that 
certain things and, most of all, certain people make him feel un- 
comfortable and he wishes that we would do something about 
these things and people not about him. Often he feels that 
something is wrong with his parents, and mostly he is right. But 
he has no words for this and, even if he did have, he has no 
reason to trust us with such weighty information. On the other 
hand, he does not know what the parents have told us about 
hi m while God only knows what they have told the child about 
us. For the parents, helpful as they may wish to be and necessary 
as they are as initial informants, cannot be trusted in these 
matters; the initial history given is often distorted by the wish 
to justify (or secretly punish) themselves or to punish (and 
unconsciously justify) somebody else, perhaps the grandparents 
who "told you so.* 5 

In this case, my office was in a hospital. Mary had been told 
that she was coming to discuss her nightmares with me a man 
whom she had never seen before. Her mother had consulted a 
pediatrician regarding these nightmares and Mary had heard 
the mother and the doctor argue over the possible indication for 
a tonsillectomy. I had hoped, therefore, that she would notice 
that the appointments of my office indicated a strictly non-medi- 
cal affair and that she would give me a chance in simple and 
straightforward terms to acknowledge the purpose of her visit, 
to tell her that I was not a doctor and then to make clear that 
we were going to play together in order to get acquainted. Such 
explanations do not quite settle a child's doubts, but they may 
permit him to turn to the toys and do something. The moment 
he does something we can observe what he selects and repudiates 
in our standard inventory of toys. Our next step, then, will be 
guided by the meaning thus revealed. 

Mary holds on to her mother as she enters my office. When 

Toys and Reasons 237 

she offers me her hand it is both rigid and cold. She gives me a 
brief smile, then turns to her mother, puts her arms around her, 
and holds her close to the still open door. She buries her head in 
her mother's skirt as if she wanted to hide in it, and responds to 
my advances only by turning her head to me with tightly closed 
eyes. Yet she had for a split moment looked at me with a smile 
that seemed to convey an interest as if she wanted to see 
whether or not the new adult was going to understand fun. This 
makes her flight to her mother seem somewhat dramatic. The 
mother tries to encourage her to look at the toys, but Mary again 
hides her face in her mother's skirt and repeats in a dramatically 
babyish voice, "Mommy, mommy, mommy!" A dramatic young 
lady: I am not even quite sure that she is not hiding a smile. I 
decide to wait. 

Now Mary does make a decision. Still holding on to her mother, 
she points to a (girl) doll and says several times quickly and 
babyishly, "What that, what that?" After the mother has pa- 
tiently explained that it is a dolly, Mary repeats "Dolly, dolly, 
dolly," and suggests in words not understandable to me that 
the mother take off the dolly's shoes. The mother tries to make 
her perform this act herself, but Mary simply repeats her de- 
mand. Her voice becomes quite anxious, and it is clear that we 
may have tears in a moment. 

Now the mother asks if it is not time for her to leave the 
room and wait outside as she has told Mary she would. I ask 
Mary whether we can let her mother go now and she, unex- 
pectedly, makes no objection, not even when she suddenly finds 
herself without anybody to lean on. I try to start a conversation 
about the doll, which the mother has left in Mary's hand. Mary 
grasps it firmly around the legs and suddenly, smiling mischiev- 
ously, she begins to touch various things in the room with the 
doll's head. When a toy falls from the shelf, she looks at me 
to see whether she has gone too far; when she sees me smile 
permissively she laughs and begins to push smaller toys, always 
with the doll's head, in such a way that they fall too. Her ex- 
citement increases. With special glee she pushes with the doll's 
head a toy train which is on the floor in the middle of the room. 
She overturns all the cars, apparently having some exciting kind 

238 Enk &' Erikson 

of fun. But as the engine overturns she suddenly stops and be- 
comes pale. She leans with her back against the sofa, holds the 
doll over her lower abdominal region, and drops it on the floor. 
She picks it up again, holds it over the same region, and drops 
it again. While repeating this several times, she begins first to 
whine and then to yell, "Mommy, mommy, mommy." 

The mother re-enters, sure that communication has failed, and 
asks Mary whether she wants to go. I tell Mary that she may go 
if she wishes but that I hope she will be back in a few days. 
Quickly calmed, she leaves with her mother, saying good-by to 
the secretary outside as if she had had a pleasant visit. 

Strangely enough, I too felt that the child had made a suc- 
cessful communication. With children, words are not always 
necessary at the beginning. I had felt that the play was leading 
up to a conversation. The fact of the mother's anxious inter- 
ruption was, of course, as significant as the child's play disruption. 
Together, they probably explain the child's babyish anxiety. But 
what had she communicated with this emotional somersault, this 
sudden hilarity and flushed aggressiveness, and this equally sud- 
den inhibition and pale anxiety? 

The discernible mode content had been pushing things, not 
with her hand but with the doll as an extension of her hand; and 
then dropping the same doll from the genital region. 

The doll as an extension of the hand has been, as it were, a 
pushing tool. This suggests that she may not dare to touch or 
push things with her bare hand just as according to observa- 
tion in her play group she seemed to touch or lift things in her 
own special way. This, together with the general rigidity in 
her extremities, suggests that Mary may be worried about her 
hands, maybe as aggressive tools. 

The transfer of the doll to the lower abdominal region leads 
to the suggestion that she was dramatizing the loss from that 
region of an aggressive tool, a pushing instrument. The attack- 
like state which overcame her at this point reminds me of some- 
thing which I learned long ago : severe hysterical attacks in adult 
women have been interpreted as dramatizations representing 
both partners in an imagined scene. Thus, one hand in tearing 
#f the patient's dress may dramatize an aggressor's approach, 

Toys and Reasons 239 

while the other, in clutching it, may represent the victim's at- 
tempt to protect herself. Mary's attack impressed me as being 
of such a nature: by dropping the doll several times, panicky 
and yet as if obsessed, she seemed to be inexorably driven to 
dramatize both the robbed and the robber. 

But what was to be stolen from her? Here we would have tc 
know which meaning is more relevant, the doll's use as an ag- 
gressive tool or the doll as representing a baby. In the play 
school, toilet situations were prominent among those which led 
to similar outbreaks of anxiety. In this play hour the dropped 
doll had first been the prolongation of an extremity and a tool 
of (pushing) aggression, and then something lost in the lowei 
abdominal region under circumstances of extreme anxiety. Does 
Mary consider a penis such an aggressive weapon, and does she 
dramatize the fact that she does not have one? From the mother's 
account it is entirely probable that on entering the nursery school 
Mary was given her first opportunity to go to the toilet in the 
presence of boys. 

I am thinking of the mother when she raps on the door. She 
has left the child, now quite composed, outside to come back 
and tell me that Mary was born with a sixth finger which was 
removed when she was approximately six months old. Just prior 
to the outbreak of her anxiety attacks, Mary had repeatedly and 
urgently asked about the scar on her hand ("What that, what 
that?") and had received the routine answer that it was "just a 
mosquito bite." The mother admits that the child when some- 
what younger could easily have been present when her congenital 
anomaly was mentioned. Mary, the mother adds, has recently 
been equally insistent in her sexual curiosity. 

We can now understand the fact that Mary feels uneasy about 
the aggressive use of her hand, which has been robbed of a 
finger. But why did she put the hand extension over the genital 
region only to dramatize its loss from there? Is there some asso- 
ciation between the lost finger and the absent penis? Such an 
association would bring into juxtaposition the observation of sex 
differences in the play school and the immediate question of arj 

Before Mary's second visit, her mother offered this furthei 

240 Erik H, Erikson 

information: Mary's sexual curiosity had recently received a 
specific blow when her father, irritable because of a regional 
increase in unemployment which threatened his means of liveli- 
hood, had shown impatience with her during her usual morning 
visit to him in the bathroom. In fact, he had shoved her out 
of the room. As he told me later, he had angrily repeated the 
words, "You stay out of here!" She had liked to watch the 
shaving process and had also on recent occasions (to his slight 
annoyance) asked about his genitals. A strict adherence to a 
routine in which she could do, say, and ask the same thing over 
and over again had always been a necessary condition for Mary's 
inner security. She was "heartbroken" over the consequent ex- 
clusion from the father's toilet. 

We also discussed the fact (which I have already mentioned) 
that Mary's disturbed sleep and foul breath had been attributed 
by a pediatrician to a bad condition of the tonsils, and that the 
mother and the physician had engaged in a discussion in front 
of Mary as to whether she needed an immediate operation or 
not. Operation, then, and separation are seen to be the common 
denominators: the actual operation on the finger, the anticipated 
operation of the tonsils, and the mythical operation by which 
boys become girls; the separation from her mother during play- 
school hours, and the estrangement from her father. At the end 
of the first hour of play observation, then, this was the closest 
we could come to meanings on which all of the play elements 
and biographic data seemed to converge. 

The antithesis of play disruption is play satiation, play from 
which a child emerges refreshed as a sleeper from a dreamless 
sleep. Both disruption and satiation are very marked and very 
clear only in rare cases. More often they are diffused and must 
be ascertained by detailed study. But not so in Mary's case. Dur- 
ing her second appointment she obliged me with as dramatic a 
specimen of play satiation as she had previously demonstrated 
of play disruption. 

At first Mary again smiles bashfully at me. Again she turns her 
head away, holding on to her mother's hand and insisting that 
the mother come with her into the room. Once in the room, 
however, she lets her mother's hand go and, forgetting about 

Toys and Reasons 


the mother's and my presence, she begins to play animatedly 
and with obvious determination and goal-mindedness. I quickly 
close the door and motion the mother to sit down, because I 
do not want to disturb the play. 

Mary goes to the corner where the blocks are on the floor. 
She selects two blocks and arranges them in such a way that she 
can stand on them each time she comes to the corner to pick up 
more blocks. Thus, play begins again with an extension of ex- 
tremities, this time her feet. She now makes a collection of blocks 
in the middle of the room, moving to the corner and back 
without hesitation. Then she kneels on the floor and builds a 
small house for a toy cow. For about a quarter of an hour she 
is completely absorbed in the task of arranging the house so 
that it is strictly rectangular and at the same time fits tightly 
about the cow. She then adds five blocks to one long side of the 
house and experiments with a sixth block until its position satisfies 
her (see Figure 1). 



This time, then, the dominant emotional note is peaceful play 
concentration with a certain maternal quality of care and order. 
There is no climax of excitement, and the play ends on a note 
of satiation; she has built something, she likes it, now the play 
is over. She gets up with a radiant smile which suddenly gives 
place to a mischievous twinkle. Before I realize the mischief I 
am about to fall victim to, I note that the close-fitting stable 
looks like a hand with a sixth finger. At the same time it ex- 
presses the "inclusive" mode, a female-protective configuration, 
corresponding to the baskets and boxes and cradles arranged by 

242 Erik H. Erikson 

little and big girls to give comfort to small things. Thus we see 
two restorations in one: The configuration puts the finger back 
on the hand and the happily feminine pattern belies the "loss 
from the genital region" previously dramatized. The second 
hour's play thus accomplishes an expression of restoration and 
safety and this concerning the same body parts (hand, genital 
region) which in the play disruption of the first hour had ap- 
peared endangered. 

But, as I said, Mary suddenly looks teasingly at me, laughs, 
takes her mother's hand and pulls her out of the room, saying 
with determination, "Mommy, come out." I wait for a while, 
then look out into the waiting room. A loud and triumphant, 
"Thtay in there!" greets me. I strategically withdraw, where- 
upon Mary closes the door with a bang. Two further attempts 
on my part to leave my room are greeted in the same gay way. 
She has me cornered. 

There is nothing to do but to enter into the spirit of the 
game. I open the door slightly, quickly push the toy cow through 
the opening, make it squeak, and withdraw it. Mary is beside 
herself with pleasure and insists that the game be repeated a 
few times. She gets her wish, then it is time for her to go home. 
When she leaves she looks triumphantly and yet affectionately 
at me and promises to come back. I am left with the task of 
figuring out what has happened. 

From anxiety in the autosphere in the first hour, Mary had 
now graduated to satiation in the microsphere and to triumph 
in the macrosphere. She had taken the mother out of my space 
and locked me into it. This game had as content: a man is teas- 
ingly locked into his room. It is only in connection with this 
playful superiority that Mary had decided to talk to me, and this 
in no uncertain terms. "Thtay in there!" were the first words 
she had ever addressed to me! They were said clearly and in a 
loud voice, as if something in her had waited for the moment 
when she would be free enough to say them. What does that 

I think we have here an episode of "father transference." It 
will be remembered that from the moment Mary came into my 
room at the beginning of the first contact she showed a some- 

Toys and Reasons 243 

what coquettish and bashful interest in me. Since it can be ex- 
pected that she would transfer to me (the man with toys) a 
conflict which disturbed her usually playful relationship with 
her father, it seems more than probable that in this game she is 
repeating with active mastery ("Thtay in there") and with some 
reversal of vectors (out-in) the situation of exclusion of which 
she has been a passive victim at home ("Stay out of here'*). 

To some this may seem like a lot of complicated and devious 
transformations for such a little girl. But here it is well to re- 
alize that these matters are difficult for rational thinking only. 
It would indeed be difficult to think up such a play trick. It is 
even difficult to recognize and analyze it. But it happens, of 
course, unconsciously and automatically: here, never under- 
estimate the power of the ego even of such a little girl. 

This episode is presented to illustrate the self-curative trend 
in spontaneous play; for play therapy and play diagnosis must 
make systematic use of such self-curative processes. They may 
help the child to help himself and they may help us to advise 
the parents. Where this fails, more complicated methods of 
treatment (child psychoanalysis) 2 must be initiated methods 
which have not been discussed in this chapter. With advancing 
age, prolonged conversation would take the place of play. Here, 
however, it was my purpose to demonstrate that a few play hours 
can serve to inform us of matters which the child could never 
verbalize. Trained observers, in the possession of numerous data, 
can see from a few play contacts which of these data are sub- 
jectively relevant to the child, and why. In Mary's case, her play 
disruption and her play satiation, if seen in the framework of 
all the known circumstances, strongly suggests that a variety of 
contemporaneous events had been incorporated into a system 
of mutually aggravating items. In her play she restored her finger, 
reassured herself, reaffirmed her femininity and told the big 
man off. Such play peace gained must, however, be sustained by 
the parents. 

Mary's parents accepted (and partly themselves suggested) 
the following recommendations. Mary's curiosity in regard to 

2 Anna Freud, Psycho-Analytical Treatment of Children, Imago Publishing 
Co., London, 1946. 

744 Erik H. Erikson 

both her scar and her genitals required a truthful attitude. She 
needed to have other children, especially boys, visit her for play 
at her home. The matter of the tonsils called for the decision of 
a specialist, which could be candidly communicated to the child. 
It did not seem wise to awaken and to restrain her during her 
aightmares; perhaps she needed to fight her dreams out, and 
there would be opportunity to hold her lightly and to comfort 
aer when she awoke spontaneously. The child needed much ac- 
tivity; playful instruction in rhythmic motion might relax some 
of the rigidity in her extremities, which, whatever the initial 
cause, may have been at least aggravated by fearful anticipation 
since hearing for the first time about the secret amputation of 
her finger. 

When Mary, somewhat later, paid me a short visit, she was 
entirely at home and asked me in a clear, loud voice about the 
color of the train I had taken on my vacation. It will be remem- 
bered that she overturned a toy engine on the occasion of her 
first visit: now she could talk about engines. A tonsillectomy had 
proved unnecessary; the nightmares had ceased; Mary was mak- 
ing free and extensive use of the new play companions provided 
in and near her home. There was a revived play relationship with 
her father. He had intuitively made the most of Mary's sudden 
enraptured admiration for shining locomotives. He took her for 
regular walks to the railroad yards where together they watched 
the mighty engines. 

Here the symbolism which has pervaded this clinical episode 
gains a new dimension. In the despair of play disruption, the toy 
engine apparently had a destructive meaning in some context 
with phallic-locomotor anxiety: when Mary pushed it over, she 
apparently had that awesome "Adam, where art thou" experi- 
ence which we first observed in Ann. At the time, Mary's play 
relationship to her father had been disrupted, and this (as she 
could not know or understand) because of his worries over a 
possible disruption of his work status. This she seems to have 
interpreted entirely iii terms of her maturational state and of her 
changes in status: and yet her reaction was not unrelated to 
the unconscious meaning implied in the father's actions. For 
threatened loss of status, threatened marginality, often result in 

Toys and Reasons 245 

an unconscious attempt by more stringent self-control and by 
purified standards to regain the ground lost or at least to keep 
from slipping any further. This, 1 believe, made the father react 
in a less tolerant way to the little girl's exploration, thus offend- 
ing and frightening her in the general area which was already 
disturbed. It was, then, this area which appeared in her play in 
a condensed form, while she attempted, from the frightfulness of 
isolation, to work her way back to playful mutuality. 

Neither Mary's play nor the insight it provided could change 
the father's economic worries. But the moment he recognized 
the impact of his anxieties on his daughter's development, he 
realized that from a long-range point of view her anxieties mat- 
tered much more than the threatened change of his work status. 
In fact, actual developments did not confirm his apprehensions. 

The father's idea of taking walks to the engine yards was 
felicitous. For now the real engines became symbols of power 
shared by father and daughter alike and sustained by the whole 
imagery of the machine culture in which this child is destined to 
become a woman. 

Thus at the end of any therapeutic encounter the parent must 
sustain in a child what the adult patient must gain for himself: 
a realignment with the images and the forces governing the cul- 
tural development of his day, and from it an increased sense of 

But here, at last, we must try to come to a better description 
and definition of what we mean by identity. 

The Beginnings of Identity 

A. Play and milieu 

A child who has just found himself able to walk, more oj 
less coaxed or ignored by those around him, seems driven to 
repeat the act for the pure enjoyment of functioning, and out 
of the need to master and perfect a newly initiated function 
But he also acts under the immediate awareness of the new status 
and stature of "one who can walk," with whatever connotation 

246 Erik H. Erikson 

this happens to have in the co-ordinates of his culture's space- 
time be it "one who will go far," "one who will be able to 
stand on his own feet," "one who will be upright," or "one who 
must be watched because he might go too far." The incorpora- 
tion of a particular version of "one who can walk" into the ego 
is one of the many steps in child development which (through 
the coincident experience of physical mastery and of cultural 
meaning, of functional pleasure and of social prestige) con- 
tribute to a more realistic self-esteem. This self-esteem grows to 
be a conviction that the ego is learning effective steps toward 
a tangible collective future, that it is developing into a defined 
ego within a social reality. The growing child must, at every 
step, derive a vitalizing sense of reality from the awareness that 
his individual way of mastering experience (his ego synthesis) is 
a successful variant of a group identity and is in accord with its 
space-time and life plan. 

In this children cannot be fooled by empty praise and con- 
descending encouragement. They may have to accept artificial 
bolstering of their self-esteem in lieu of something better, but 
their ego identity gains real strength only from wholehearted and 
consistent recognition of real accomplishment i.e., of achieve- 
ment that has meaning in the culture. . . . 

The study of contemporary neuroses, however, points to the 
significance of this lag between child training and social reality. 
Neuroses contain, so we find, unconscious and futile attempts to 
adjust to the heterogeneous present with the magic concepts of 
a more homogeneous past, fragments of which are still trans- 
mitted through child training. But mechanisms of adjustment 
which once made for evolutionary adaptation, tribal integration, 
caste coherence, national uniformity, etc., are at loose ends in 
an industrial civilization. 

No wonder, then, that some of our troubled children con- 
stantly break out of their play into some damaging activity in 
which they seem to us to "interfere" with our world; while 
analysis reveals that they only wish to demonstrate their right 
to find an identity in it. They refuse to become a specialty called 
"child," who must play at being big because he is not given an 
opportunity to be a small partner in a big world. . . . 

Toys and Reasons 247 

A child has quite a number of opportunities to identify him- 
self, more or less experimentally, with habits, traits, occupations, 
and ideas of real or fictitious people of either sex. Certain crises 
force him to make radical selections. However, the historical 
era in which he lives offers only a limited number of socially 
meaningful models for workable combinations of identification 
fragments. Their usefulness depends on the way in which they 
simultaneously meet the requirements of the organism's matura- 
tional stage and the ego's habits of synthesis. . . . 

The desperate intensity of many a symptom, then, may be the 
defense of a step in ego identity which to the child promises to 
integrate the rapid changes taking place in all areas of his life* 
What to the observer looks like an especially powerful manifes- 
tation of naked instinct is often only a desperate plea for the 
permission to synthesize and sublimate in the only way possible. 
We can therefore expect our young patients to respond only 
to therapeutic measures which will help them to acquire the 
prerequisites for the successful completion of their ego identity. 
Therapy and guidance may attempt to substitute more desirable 
for less desirable items, but the total configuration of the ego 
identity remains unalterable. It follows that therapy and guid- 
ance by professionals are doomed to failure where the culture 
(through the mother) refuses to provide an early basis for an 
ego identity and where opportunities for appropriate later ad- 
justments are missing. 




Need for Interpersonal Intimacy 

Just as the juvenile era was marked by a significant change 
the development of the need for compeers, for playmates rather 
like oneself the beginning of preadolescence is equally spectacu- 
larly marked, in my scheme of development, by the appearance of 
a new type of interest in another person. These changes are the 
result of maturation and development, or experience. This new 
interest in the preadolescent era is not as general as the use of 
language toward others was in childhood, or the need of similar 
people as playmates was in the juvenile era. Instead, it is a specific 
new type of interest in a particular member of the same sex 
who becomes a chum or a close friend. This change represents 
the beginning of something very like full-blown, psychiatrically 
defined love. In other words, the other fellow takes on a perfectly 
novel relationship with the person concerned: he becomes of 
practically equal importance in all fields of value. Nothing re- 
motely like that has ever appeared before. All of you who have 
children are sure that your children love you; when you say that, 
you are expressing a pleasant illusion. But if you will look very 
closely at one of your children when he finally finds a chum 
somewhere between eight-and-a-half and ten you will discover 
something very different in the relationship namely, that your 

* Reprinted by permission of the William Alanson White Psychiatric 
Foundation and W. W. Norton & Co. from The Interpersonal Theory of 
Psychiatry by Harry Stack Sullivan, edited by Helen Swick Perry and Mary 
Ladd Gawel. Copyright, 1953, by The William Alanson White Psychiatric 
Foundation, Inc. 


Preadolescence 249 

child begins to develop a real sensitivity to what matters to 
another person. And this is not in the sense of "what should I 
do to get what I want," but instead "what should I do to con- 
tribute to the happiness or to support the prestige and feeling 
of worth-whileness of my chum." So far as I have ever been 
able to discover, nothing remotely like this appears before the 
age of, say, eight-and-a-half, and sometimes it appears decidedly 

Thus the developmental epoch of preadolescence is marked by 
the coming of the integrating tendencies which, when they are 
completely developed, we call love, or, to say it another way, by 
the manifestation of the need for interpersonal intimacy. Now 
even at this late stage in my formulation of these ideas, I still 
find that some people imagine that intimacy is only a matter of 
approximating genitals one to another. And so I trust that you 
will finally and forever grasp that interpersonal intimacy can 
really consist of a great many things without genital contact; 
that intimacy in this sense means, just as it always has meant, 
closeness, without specifying that which is close other than the 
persons. Intimacy is that type of situation involving two people 
which permits validation of all components of personal worth. 
Validation of personal worth requires a type of relationship which 
I call collaboration, by which I mean clearly formulated adjust- 
ments of one's behavior to the expressed needs of the other 
person in the pursuit of increasingly identical that is, more 
and more nearly mutual satisfactions, and in the maintenance 
of increasingly similar security operations. 1 Now this preadoles- 
cent collaboration is distinctly different from the acquisition, in 
the juvenile era, of habits of competition, cooperation, and com- 
promise. In preadolescence not only do people occupy them- 
selves in moving toward a common, more-or-less impersonal 
objective, such as the success of "our team," or the discomfiture 

1 [Editors' note: Sullivan's use of the terms "collaboration" and "coopera- 
tion" should be kept in mind throughout this section. By cooperation, he 
means the usual give-and-take of the juvenile era; by collaboration, he means 
the feeling of sensitivity to another person which appears in preadolescence. 
"Collaboration ... is a great step forward from cooperation I play ac- 
cording to the rules of the game, to preserve my prestige and feeling of 
superiority and merit. When we collaborate, it is a matter of we." (Concep- 
tions of Modern Psychiatry, p. 55.)] 

250 Harry Stack Sullivan 

of "our teacher," as they might have done in the juvenile era, 
but they also, specifically and increasingly, move toward supply- 
ing each other with satisfactions and taking on each other's suc- 
cesses in the maintenance of prestige, status, and all the things 
which represent freedom from anxiety, or the diminution of 
anxiety. 2 

Psychotherapeiitic Possibilities in Preadolescence 

Because of the rapidly developing capacity to revise one's 
personifications of another person on the basis of great interest 
in observation and analysis of one's experience with him, it comes 
about that the preadolescent phase of personality development 
can have and often does have very great inherent psychothera- 
peutic possibilities. I believe I have said earlier that it is at the 
developmental thresholds that the chance for notable favorable 
change tends to segregate itself. Although the structure of the 
self-system is such that its development in general is rather 
powerfully directed along the lines it has already taken, it is 
much more subject to influence through new experience, either 
fortunate or unfortunate, at each of the developmental thresh- 
olds. The fact that the self-system can undergo distinct change 
early in each of the developmental stages is of very real signifi- 
cance. For it is the self-system the vast organization of experi- 
ence which is concerned with protecting our self-esteem which 
is involved in all inadequate and inappropriate living and is quite 
central to the whole problem of personality disorder and its 
remedy. And it is this capacity for distinct change in the self- 
system which begins to be almost fantastically important in pre- 

During the juvenile era a number of influences of vicious 
family life may be attenuated or corrected. But in the Western 
world a great deal of the activity of juveniles is along the lines 

2 [Editors' note: Up to this point, this chapter is taken from 1944-1945 
lectures, rather than from the series on which this book is primarily based, 
since this portion is missing in the latter series because of failures of record- 
ing equipment. The material corresponds, however, to the outline in Sul- 
livan's Notebook.] 

Preadolescence 25 1 

of our ideals of intensely competitive, invidious society; only 
recently and, I fear, still quite insularly has there been any 
marked social pressure toward developing the other aspects of 
the same thing, the capacity to compromise and cooperate. Be- 
cause of the competitive element, and also because of the ju- 
venile's relative insensitivity to the importance of other people, 
it is possible that one can maintain throughout the juvenile era 
remarkably fantastic ideas about oneself, that one can have a 
very significantly distorted personification of the self, and keep 
it under cover. To have a very fantastic personification of oneself 
is, actually, to be very definitely handicapped. In other words, 
it is a misfortune in development. 

Because one draws so close to another, because one is newly 
capable of seeing oneself through the other's eyes, the preado- 
lescent phase of personality development is especially significant 
in correcting autistic, fantastic ideas about oneself or others. I 
would like to stress at the risk of using superlatives which 
sometimes get very tedious that development of this phase of 
personality is of incredible importance in saving a good many 
rather seriously handicapped people from otherwise inevitable 
serious mental disorder. 

I may perhaps digress to the extent of saying that for some 
years I have had no negative instance to the following generaliza- 
tion: As a psychiatrist and a supervising psychiatrist, I have had 
.occasion to hear about many male patients who find all relation- 
ships with other men occasions for considerable tenseness and 
vigilance, and who are uncomfortable in all their business, social, 
or other dealings with other men; of this group, I have found 
without exception that each one has lacked anything like good 
opportunities for preadolescent socialization. (I am confining my 
remarks to male patients here because the female picture is more 
complicated and I have less material on it.) These male patients 
may have what they call very close friends of the same sex, may 
even be overt and promiscuous homosexuals; but they are not 
at ease with strange men, they have much more trouble doing 
business with other men than seems to be justified by the factual 
aspects of the difficulty, and they are particularly uncertain as tc, 
'what members of their own sex think of them. In other words, ) 

252 Harry Stack Sullivan 

am practically convinced that capacity for ease, for maximum 
profit from experience, in carrying on the conventional businesses 
of life with members of one's own sex requires that one should 
have been fortunate in entering into and profiting from relations 
with a chum in the preadolescent phase of personality develop- 

It is self-evident, I suppose, that I am conspicuously taking 
exception to the all-too-prevalent idea that things are pretty well 
fixed in the Jesuitical first seven years. This idea has constituted 
one of the greatest problems for some anthropologists who have 
tried to translate psychiatric thought into anthropologically use- 
ful ideas. The anthropologists have noised at them from all sides 
the enormous importance of infantile experience meaning ex- 
perience certainly under the age of eight. Yet one of the most 
conspicuous observations of an anthropologist working anywhere 
is that children of the privileged, who are raised by servants, do 
not grow up to be like the servants. That is a little bit difficult 
for an anthropologist to reconcile with the tremendous emphasis 
on very early experience. My work has shown me very clearly 
that, while early experience does a great many things as \ have 
been trying to suggest thus far the development of capacity 
for interpersonal relations is by no means a matter which is 
completed at some point, say, in the juvenile era. Very far from 
it. And even preadolescence, which is a very, very important 
phase of personality development, is not the last phase. 

FreadoIesceBt Society 

Except in certain rural communities, there occurs in preado- 
lescence the development of at least an approach to what has 
long been called by sociologists "the gang." I am again speaking 
rather exclusively of male preadolescents, because by this time 
the deviations prescribed by the culture make it pretty hard to 
make a long series of statements which are equally obviously 
valid for the two sexes. The preadolescent interpersonal relation 
is primarily, and vastly importantly, a two-group; but these two- 
groups tend to interlock. In other words, let us say that persons 

Preadolescence 253 

A and B are chums. Person A also finds much that is admirable 
about person C, and person B finds much that is admirable about 
person D. And persons C and D each has his chum, so that there 
is a certain linkage of interest among all of these two-groups. 
Quite often there will be one particular preadolescent who is, 
thanks to his having been fortunate in earlier phases, the sort of 
person that many of these preadolescent people find useful as a 
model; and he will be the third member, you might say, of many 
three-groups, composed of any one of a number of two-groups 
and himself. At the same time, he may have a particular chum 
just as everybody in this society may have. Thus these close two- 
groups, which are extremely useful in correcting earlier devia- 
tions, tend at the same time to interlock through one person or a 
few people who are, in a very significant sense, leaders. And 
incidentally, let me say that many of us are apt to think of 
leadership in political terms, in terms of "influence" and the "in- 
fluential." We overlook the fact that influence is exerted by the 
influential in certain conspicuous areas other than that of getting 
people to do what the leader wants done. The fact is that a 
very important field of leadership phenomena and one that 
begins to be outstandingly important in preadolescence is 
opinion leadership; and understanding this and developing tech- 
niques for integrating it might be one of the few great hopes for 
the future. 

Thus some few people tend to come out in leadership positions 
in preadolescent society. Some of them are the people who can 
get the others to collaborate, to work with understanding and 
appreciation of one another toward common objectives or aims, 
which sometimes may be crimes, or what not. And others are 
the leaders whose views gradually come to be the views of a large 
number in the group, which is opinion leadership. This kind of 
leadership has certain fairly measurable and perhaps some im- 
ponderable aspects. One of its reasonably measurable aspects is 
that people whose development, combined with their intellectual 
abilities, has given them the ability to separate facts and opinions, 
tend to be considered by the others as well informed, right in their 
thinking about things of interest at that particular stage, and thus 
tend to do the thinking for a good many of the others because 

254 Harry Stack Sullivan 

of the latter's unfortunate personality warp. And the time when 
these leaders in opinion do the thinking almost exclusively is 
when there are serious problems confronting the members of the 
group. The level of general insecurity about the human future is 
high at this stage of development, and in any case probably in- 
creases when serious problems arise, whether they occur in the 
preadolescent gang or in society as a whole. It is at those times 
that perhaps far more than half of the statistical population 
handicapped by lack of information, by lack of training, and by 
various difficulties in personal life which call out a good deal of 
anxiety, which in turn interferes with practically everything use- 
ful has to look to opinion leadership for anything like reassur- 
ing views or capable foresight. Thus an important part of the 
preadolescent phase of personality development is the develop- 
ing patterning of leadership-led relationships, which are so vital 
in any social organization and which are, theoretically at least, 
of very great importance in relatively democratic organizations 
of society. 

I have suggested that an important aspect of the preadolescent 
phase is that, practically for the first time, there is consensual 
validation of personal worth. Now it is true that some children 
are fortunate, indeed; through the influences to which they have 
been subjected in the home and school, they are about as sure as 
they can be that they are worth while in certain respects. But 
very many people arrive in preadolescence in the sad state which 
an adult would describe as "getting away with murder." In other 
words, they have had to develop such remarkable capacities for 
deceiving and misleading others that they never had a chance to 
discover what they were really good for. But in this intimate inter- 
change in preadolescence some preadolescents even have mu^ 
tual daydreams, spend hours and hours carrying on a sort of 
spontaneous mythology in which both participate in this new 
necessity for thinking of the other fellow as right and for being 
thought of as right by the other fellow, much of this uncertainty 
as to the real worth of the personality, and many self-deceptive 
skills at deceiving others which exist in the juvenile era, may be 
rectified by the improving communication of the chums and, to a 

Preadolescence 255 

much lesser extent but nonetheless valuably, by confirmatory re- 
lations in the collaboration developed in the gang. ... 

Disasters in Timing of Developmental Stages 

As the preadolescent goes on toward the puberty change, the 
effect of previous experience on rate of maturation becomes pe- 
culiarly conspicuous. The time of the puberty change may vary 
considerably from person to person in contrast to the time for 
the convergence of the eyes in infancy, for instance, which can 
be predicted almost exactly. This difference in time of puberty 
maturation may occur partly because of certain biological and 
hereditary factors; but I know, from considerable data, that fac- 
tors of experience are also involved. Certain peculiarities of 
earlier training are so extraordinarily frequent in cases of so- 
called delayed puberty that one suspects that this training has 
literally delayed the maturation of the lust dynamism. 

One of the lamentable things which can happen to personality 
in the preadolescent society is that a particular person may not 
become preadolescent at all promptly in other words, he lit- 
erally does not have the need for intimacy when most of the 
people of about the same age have it, and therefore he does not 
have an opportunity of being part of the parade as it goes by. 
But then this person, when preadolescence is passing for most of 
his contemporaries, develops a need for intimacy with someone 
of his own sex and may be driven to establishing relationships 
with a chronologically younger person. This is not necessarily 
a great disaster. What is more of a disaster is that he may form 
a preadolescent relationship with an actually adolescent person, 
which is perhaps more frequently the case in this situation. This 
does entail some very serious risk to personality and can, I think, 
in quite a number of instances, be suspected of having consider- 
able to do with the establishment of a homosexual way of life, or 
at least a "bisexual" way. And, as I have already hinted, there 
is definitely a possibility of going no further than preadolescence. 
The fact that one can be preadolescent for perhaps two years 

256 Harry Stack Sullivan 

longer than others in one's particular group of young people is 
nowadays frequent enough to be a study in itself. The number 
of instances of schizophrenic disorder which are precipitated by 
one of the chums getting well into adolescence while the other 
remains preadolescent is, in my experience, notable. 

If adolescence is delayed, it would not have any particular im- 
portance, and might actually be somewhat advantageous, as long 
as one were sure of having a reasonable number of equally de- 
layed people with whom to maintain the type of intimacy which 
characterizes preadolescence. It is only when chumships are 
broken up, and the preadolescent society is disorganized by the 
further maturation of nearly all the members, that great stress 
may be applied to the personalities which are not able to move on 
the same time schedule. Sometimes these people who are delayed 
in puberty have a progression of chums from people of their own 
age to younger ones, which is somewhat hard on the status of both 
in the preadolescent organization, tending to exclude both from 
what would normally be the society of the younger. I suppose the 
best thing that can happen next to having a number of con- 
freres who are also slow in maturing is to be able to take the 
early stage of adolescence before one has really gotten to it, 
which is sometimes possible; that is, the adolescent change means 
a moving of an interest toward members of the other sex, but one 
can often find an eccentric member of the other sex who also has 
not undergone the puberty change, but is glad to go through the 
motions. That reduces the stress on one's feeling of personal 
worth and security which delayed adolescence may otherwise 
bring. The delayed completion of the preadolescent phase of per- 
sonality, together with a shift from the group with which the pre- 
adolescent has been developing to marginal groups of adolescents, 
is, I think, apt to be pretty hard on this younger person; that is, 
he is, in a sense, the victim of marginal groups of adolescent 
people, who are actually having plenty of trouble themselves and 
who are apt to develop a very lively interest in sexual operations 
with this preadolescent whose adolescence has been delayed. In 
certain instances, at least, these operations are very costly to the 
personality when finally the puberty change and the phases of 
adolescence begin. 

Preadolescence 257 

In a given person, the beginning of adolescence, as far as per- 
sonality development is concerned, takes place at an indefinite 
time; that is, although it does not take place overnight, it is ob- 
servable at the end of a matter of months, instead of years. Early 
adolescence, in my scheme of development, is ushered in by the 
beginning of the array of things called the puberty change, by the 
frank appearance of the lust dynamism. And the frank appear- 
ance of the lust dynamism is, in a great many instances, mani- 
fested by the intrusion, into fantasy or the sleeplife, of experi- 
ence of a piece with the sexual orgasm; in other instances, where 
there has been preliminary genital play, and so on, it is manifested 
by the occurrence of orgasm in certain play. Lust is the last to 
mature of the important integrating tendencies, or needs for satis- 
faction, which characterize the underlying human animal now 
well advanced to being a person. 

In our society, the age when early adolescence appears varies 
within three or four years, I think. This remarkable develop- 
mental discrepancy which is possible among different people of 
the same chronological age a vastly greater discrepancy than 
occurs in the maturing of any of the previously discussed needs 
is one of the important factors which makes adolescence such a 
time of stress. And incidentally, only by studying a different social 
organization from ours could one see how much less a time of 
stress the period of adolescence might be. In certain other socie- 
ties, where the culture provides a great deal more real preparation 
for adolescence than ours does, the extraordinarily stressful as- 
pect of adolescence is not nearly so conspicuous. There are, how- 
ever, certain elements of the puberty change and its associated 
adolescent phase of personality organization that are not to be 
overlooked in any social order; those are the ones associated with 
the remarkable speeding up of certain growth factors which, for 
example, makes people clumsy and awkward who were previously 
quite skillful and dexterous. Thus there are always, or almost 
always, some stresses concerned with this very rapid maturation 
of the somatic organization which is ushered in by the puberty 
change. But so far as the psychological stresses are concerned, 
they are more apt to result from disasters in timing than from 
anything else. 

258 Harry Stack Sullivan 

The Experience of Loneliness 3 

Before going on, I would like to discuss the developmental his- 
tory of that motivational system which underlies the experience of 

Now loneliness is possibly most distinguished, among the ex- 
periences of human beings, by the toneless quality of the things 
which are said about it. While I have tried to impress upon you 
the extreme undesirability of the experience of anxiety, I, in com- 
mon apparently with all denizens of the English-speaking world, 
feel inadequate to communicate a really clear impression of the 
experience of loneliness in its quintessential force. But I think I 
can give you some idea of why it is a terribly important compo- 
nent of personality, by tracing the various motivational systems 
by developmental epochs that enter into the experience of loneli- 
ness. Of the components which culminate in the experience of 
real loneliness, the first, so far as I know, appears in infancy as 
the need for contact. This is unquestionably composed of the 
elaborate group of dependencies which characterize infancy, and 
which can be collected under the need for tenderness. This kind 
of need extends into childhood. And in childhood we see com- 
ponents of what will ultimately be experienced as loneliness ap- 
pearing in the need for adult participation in activities. These 
activities start out perhaps in the form of expressive play in which 
the very young child has to learn how to express emotions by suc- 
cesses and failures in escaping anxiety or in increasing euphoria; 
hi various kinds of manual play in which one learns coordination, 
and so on; and finally in verbal play the pleasure-giving use of 
the components of verbal speech which gradually move over into 
the consensual validation of speech. In the juvenile era we see 
components of what will eventually be loneliness in the need for 

8 [Editors* note: Several tJmes, in the series of lectures which has been 
used as the basis for this book, Sullivan has made reference to a later dis- 
cussion of loneliness. Yet this discussion does not appear in this particular 
series, probably through an oversight. We have therefore included here a 
discussion of loneliness from a 1945 lecture.] 

Preadolescence 259 

compeers; and in the later phases of the juvenile era, we see it in 
what I have not previously mentioned by this name, but what you 
can all recognize from your remembered past, as the need for 
acceptance. To put it another way, most of you have had, in the 
juvenile era, an exceedingly bitter experience with your com- 
peers to which the term "fear of ostracism" might be justifiably 
applied the fear of being accepted by no one of those whom one 
must have as models for learning how to be human. 

And in preadolescence we come to the final component of the 
really intimidating experience of loneliness the need for in- 
timate exchange with a fellow being, whom we may describe or 
identify as a chum, a friend, or a loved one that is, the need for 
the most intimate type of exchange with respect to satisfactions 
and security. 

Loneliness, as an experience which has been so terrible thai 
it practically baffles clear recall, is a phenomenon ordinarily en- 
countered only in preadolescence and afterward. But by giving 
this very crude outline of the components that enter into this driv- 
ing impulsion, I hope I have made it clear why, under continued 
privation, the driving force of this system may integrate inter- 
personal situations despite really severe anxiety. Although we 
have not previously, in the course of this outline of the theory of 
personality, touched on anything which can brush aside the activ- 
ity of the self -system, we have now come to it: Under loneliness, 
people seek companionship even though intensely anxious in the 
performance. When, because of deprivations of companionship, 
one does integrate a situation in spite of more or less intense 
anxiety, one often shows, in the situation, evidences of a serious 
defect of personal orientation. And remember that I am speaking 
of orientation in living, not orientation in time and space, as the 
traditional psychiatrists discuss it. I have already given my con- 
ception of orientation in living in discussing the juvenile era. Now 
this defective orientation may be due, for instance, to a primary 
lack of experience which is needed for the correct appraisal of 
the situation with respect to its significance, aside from its sig- 
nificance as a relief of loneliness. There are a good many situa- 
tions in which lonely people literally lack any experience wit> 
things which they encounter. . . . 

260 Harry Stack Sullivan 

Loneliness reaches its full significance in the preadolescent era, 
and goes on relatively unchanged from thenceforth throughout 
life. Anyone who has experienced loneliness is glad to discuss 
some vague abstract of this previous experience of loneliness. But 
it is a very difficult therapeutic performance to get anyone to 
remember clearly how he felt and what he did when he was 
horribly lonely. In other words, the fact that loneliness will lead 
to integrations in the face of severe anxiety automatically means 
that loneliness in itself is more terrible than anxiety. While we 
show from the very beginning a curiously clear capacity for fear- 
ing that which might be fatally injurious, and from very early 
in life an incredible sensitivity to significant people, only as we 
reach the preadolescent stage of development does our profound 
need for dealings with others reach such proportion that fear and 
anxiety actually do not have the power to stop the stumbling out 
9f restlessness into situations which constitute, in some measure, 
a relief from loneliness. This is not manifest in anything like driv- 
ing force until we arrive at the preadolescent era. 



Early Adolescence* 

The earlier phase of adolescence as a period of personality de- 
velopment is defined as extending from the eruption of true geni- 
tal interest, felt as lust, to the patterning of sexual behavior which 
is the beginning of the last phase of adolescence. There are very 
significant differences, in the physiological substrate connected 
with the beginning of adolescence, between men and women; but 
in either case there is a rather abrupt change, relatively unparal- 
leled in development, by which a zone of interaction with the en- 
vironment which had been concerned with excreting waste be- 
comes newly and rapidly significant as a zone of interaction in 
physical interpersonal intimacy. In other words, what had been, 
from the somatic viewpoint, the more external tissues of the 
urinary-excretory zone now become the more external part of the 
genital zone as well. The change, from the psychological stand- 
point, pertains to new needs which have their culmination in the 
experience of sexual orgasm; the felt tensions associated with this 
need are traditionally and quite properly identified as lust. In 
ether words, lust is the felt component of integrating tendencies 
j ertaining to the genital zone of interaction, seeking the satisfac- 
i ion of cumulatively augmented sentience culminating in orgasm. 
There is, so far as I know, no necessarily close relationship be- 
tween lust, as an integrating tendency, and the need for intimacy, 
which we have previously discussed, except that they both char- 

* Reprinted by permission of The William Alanson White Psychiatric 
Foundation and W. W. Norton & Co. from The Interpersonal Theory of 
Psychiatry by Harry Stack Sullivan, edited by Helen Swick Perry and Mary 
Ladd Gawel. Copyright, 1953, by The William Alanson White Psychiatric 
Foundation, Inc. 

262 Harry Stack Sullivan 

acterize people at a certain stage in development. The two are 
strikingly distinct. In fact, making very much sense of the com- 
plexities and difficulties which are experienced in adolescence and 
subsequent phases of life, depends, in considerable measure, on 
the clarity with which one distinguishes three needs, which are 
often very intricately combined and at the same time contradic- 
tory. These are the need for personal security that is, for 
freedom from anxiety; the need for intimacy that is, for col- 
laboration with at least one other person; and the need for lustful 
satisfaction, which is connected with genital activity in pursuit of 
the orgasm. 

The Shift in the Intimacy Need 

As adolescence is ushered in, there is, in people who are not too 
much warped for such a development, a change in the so-called 
object of the need for intimacy. And the change is from what I 
shall presently be discussing as an isophilic choice to what may be 
called a heterophilic choice that is, it is a change from the seek- 
ing of someone quite like oneself to the seeking of someone who 
is in a very significant sense very different from oneself. This 
change in choice is naturally influenced by the concomitant ap- 
pearance of the genital drive. Thus, other things being equal and 
no very serious warp or privation intervening, the change from 
preadolescence to adolescence appears as a growing interest in 
the possibilities of achieving some measure of intimacy with a 
member of the other sex, rather after the pattern of the intimacy 
that one has in preadolescence enjoyed with a member of one's 
own sex. 

The degree to which the need for intimacy is satisfied in this 
heterophilic sense in the present-day American scene leaves very 
much to be desired. The reason is not that the shift of interest 
toward the other sex in itself makes intimacy difficult, but that 
the cultural influences which are borne in upon each person in- 
clude very little which prepares members of different sexes for 
a fully human, simple, personal relationship together. A great 
many of the barriers to heterophilic intimacy go back to the 

Early Adolescence 263 

very beginnings of the Western world. Just to give a hint of what 
I am talking about, I might mention the so-called double stand- 
ard of morality and the legal status which surrounds illegitimate 
birth. One can get an idea of the important influence of cultural 
organization and cultural institutions on the possibilities of rela- 
tionships in adolescence which are easy and, in terms of personal- 
ity development, successful, by studying a culture very signifi- 
cantly different from our own in this respect. For some years I 
have recommended in this connection Hortense Powdermaker's 
Life in Lesu. 1 There, the institutions bearing on the distinction 
between the sexes are very significantly different from ours, and 
the contrast between our institutions and theirs perhaps sheds 
some light in itself on unfortunate aspects of the Western world. 
But to return to our culture: The change in the need for in- 
timacy the new awakening of curiosity in the boy as to how 
he could get to be on as friendly terms with a girl as he has been 
on with his churn is usually ushered in by a change of covert 
process. Fantasy undergoes a rather striking modification a 
modification almost as abrupt and striking as the sudden accelera- 
tion of somatic growth which begins with the puberty change 
and leads, for instance, to the awkwardness which I have men- 
tioned. And there may also be a change of content in overt com- 
municative processes, both in the two-group and in the gang. That 
is, if the preadolescents are successfully progressing toward matu- 
ration and uniformly free from personality warp, this interest in 
members of the other sex also spreads into the area of communi- 
cation between the chums, even though the one chum may not 
be quite up to the other and may be somewhat opposed to this 
new preoccupation with girls. In the more fortunate circum- 
stances, this is presently a gang-wise change, and those who are 
approximately ready for it profit considerably from this last great 
topic of preadolescent collaboration the topic of who's who and 
what's what in the so-called heterosexual world. If the group in- 
cludes some members whose development is delayed, the social 
pressure in the group, in the gang, is extremely hard on their selt- 
esteem and may lead to very serious disturbances of personality , 

1 [Hortense Powdermaker, Life in Lesu: l"he Study of a Melanesian Society 
in New Ireland; New York: W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1933.] 

264 Harry Stack Sullivan 

indeed. As I have previously hinted, it is not uncommon for the 
preadolescent phase to fade imperceptibly into the early adoles- 
cent phase, and for gang-wise genital activity to become part of 
the pattern of the very last stage of preadolescence or the verge 
of adolescence. Thus one not uncommonly finds at this point 
that the lust dynamism is actually functioning and governing a 
good part of group activity, but this is very definitely oriented to 
that which is to follow with members of the other sex. 

In this change from preadolescence to adolescence, there has to 
be a great deal of trial-and-error learning by human example. A 
considerable number of those at the very beginning of adoles- 
cence have some advantage in this learning by virtue of having 
already acquired data from their observation of and experience 
with a sibling of the other sex not very far removed from them 
in developmental age; these data which had been previously un- 
important are now rapidly activated. 

I believe that according to conventional, statistical experience, 
svomen undergo the puberty change somewhat hi advance of 
men; in a great many instances, this leads to a peculiar sort of 
stutter in developmental progress between the boys and the girls 
in an age community so that by the time most of the boys have 
gotten really around to interest in girls, most of the girls are al- 
ready fairly well wound up in their problems about boys. From 
the standpoint of personality development, it would be convenient 
if these things were timed slightly better; but I suppose that in the 
beginning when everything was arranged I've never had any 
private information on the subject, by the way procreation was 
fully as important as a feeling of self-esteem is now in a highly 
developed civilization. And so women get ready for procreation 
quite early; in fact one of the important problems of adolescence 
is how to avoid the accident of procreation. 

Various Collisions of Lust, Security, and 
the Intimacy Need 

After lust gets under way, it is extremely powerful. In fact, if 
one overlooks his experience with loneliness, he may well think 

Early Adolescence 265 

that lust is the most powerful dynamism in interpersonal relations. 
Since our culture provides us with singular handicaps for lustful 
activity rather than with facilitation, lust promptly collides with 
a whole variety of powerful dynamisms in personality. The most 
ubiquitous collision is naturally the collision between one's lust 
and one's security; and by security I mean one's feeling of self- 
esteem and personal worth. Thus a great many people in early 
adolescence suffer a lot of anxiety in connection with their new- 
found motivation to sexual or genital activity and I use those 
words interchangeably. Besides the puzzlement, embarrassment, 
and so on, which the culture practically makes certain, there are 
lamentably too many instances of people who already have a 
rather profound warp with respect to the general area of the 
body which is concerned. I have called this the primary genital 
phobia, which is not entirely to be interpreted on the basis of the 
usual ideas about phobia. By primary genital phobia I refer to an 
enduring warp of personality which is often inculcated in late in- 
fancy and early childhood and practically converts that area of 
the body into something not quite of the body. In discussing the 
excretory function and the exploratory power of the hand, I have 
commented on the incredible efforts made by certain parents to 
keep the young child from handling the genitals, from exploring 
and getting sensations from them. In cases in which this is suc- 
cessful, that area of the body becomes distinctly related to that 
area of personality to which I long since referred as the not-me. It 
is almost impossible for the adolescent who has this type of warp 
to arrive at any simple and, shall I say, conventional type of learn- 
ing of what to do with lust. Therefore, as that person becomes 
lustful, he has the energy of the genital dynamism added to loneli- 
ness and other causes for restlessness; thus his activity with others 
becomes comparatively pointless, which almost certainly is hu- 
miliating and is not a contribution to his self-esteem. Or he may 
actually have some fairly serious disturbance of personality be- 
cause of the outstanding power of the lust dynamism and the 
comparative hopelessness of learning how he, in particular, can 
do anything about it. Thus a person in this era may know a good 
deal about what other people do, but if he finds he can't do it 
himself, he doesn't feel quite up to the average. 

266 Harry Stack Sullivan 

Not only does lust collide with the need for security, but the 
shift in the intimacy need may also collide with the need for se- 
curity. In early adolescence, the need for intimacy, for collabora- 
tion with some very special other person, reaches out toward, and 
tends to settle on, a member of the other sex. Now the ways in 
which this may collide with self-esteem are numerous, but there 
are a few particular instances that I want to bring to your atten- 
tion. Quite often we discover that the young reach adolescence 
very much to the discontent of their elders in the home. In those 
situations it is not uncommon to find that there has been no seri- 
ous taboo by the family group against the development of a chum 
relationship or even against membership in a gang; but now as 
the interest begins to move toward members of the other sex, 
there does begin to be strong repressive influence brought to bear 
on the adolescent by the family group. 

One of the most potent instruments used in this particular is 
ridicule; many an adolescent has been ridiculed practically into 
very severe anxiety by parents who just do not want him to be- 
come, as they think of it, an adult interested in such things as 
sex, whica may get him diseased or what not, or may result in 
marriage and his leaving home. Ridicule from parents and other 
eldeis is among the worst tools that are used on early adolescents. 
Sometimes a modification of ridicule is used by parents who are 
either too decent to use ridicule or are unaware of its remarkable 
power; and this modification takes the form of interfering with, 
objecting to, criticizing, and otherwise getting in the way of any 
detectable movement of their child toward a member of the other 
sex. This can go to the point of being a pathological performance 
which we call jealousy, in which the parent literally gets in- 
credibly wrapped up in the rudimentary two-group that the ado- 
lescent is trying to establish with some member of the opposite 
sex. We will touch on jealousy again when we get around to dis- 
cussing the particular group of difficulties in living which are 
called paranoid states. It should merely be noted at this point 
that jealousy is invariably a matter of more than two people, and 
that very often everyone concerned in jealousy is pretty fantastic 
- -that is, there are a great many parataxic processes mixed up in 
ii- Sometimes the third person concerned is purely a parataxic de- 

Early Adolescence 267 

lusion on the part of the jealous person. So much for merely a few 
high spots on the type of collisions between the feeling of per- 
sonal worth and the change in the direction of the need for 

There are also collisions between the intimacy need and lust. In 
establishing collaborative intimacy with someone, four varieties 
of awkwardnesses are common, of which the first three embar- 
rassment, diffidences, and excessive precautions make up one 
group. The fourth represents one of our magic tricks of swinging 
to the other extreme to get away from something that doesn't 
work, which I call the not technique. In other words, you know 
what an apple is, and if you were under pressure enough you 
could produce an imaginary truth, not apple, made up entirely of 
the absence-of-apple characteristics. Thus, one of the ways of at- 
tempting to solve this collision between the intimacy need and 
lust is by something which is about the opposite of diffidence 
namely, the development of a very bold approach in the pursuit of 
the genital objective. But the approach is so poorly addressed to 
the sensitivities and insecurities of the object that the object is in 
turn embarrassed and made diffident; and so it overreaches and 
has the effect of making the integration of real intimacy quite 

A much more common evidence of the collision of these two 
powerful motivational systems is seen among adolescents in this 
culture as the segregation of object persons, which is in itself 
an extremely unfortunate way of growing up. By this I refer to 
the creating of distinctions between people toward whom lustful 
motivations can apply, and people who will be sought for the 
relief of loneliness that is, for collaborative intimacy, for friend- 
ship. The classical instance is the old one of the prostitute and 
the good girl. The prostitute is the only woman who is to be- 
thought of for genital contact; the good girl is never to be thought 
of in that connection, but only for friendship and for a somewhat 
nebulous future state referred to as marriage. When this segrega- 
tion has been quite striking, this nebulous state takes on a purely 
fantastic character. Nowadays, the far more prevalent distinction 
is between sexy girls and good girls, rather than this gross divi- 
sion into bad and good women. But no matter how it comes about 

268 Harry Stack Sullivan 

that the other sex is cut into two groups one of which can 
satisfy a person's loneliness and spare him anxiety, while the other 
satisfies his lust the trouble with this is that lust is a part of per- 
sonality, and no one can get very far at completing his per- 
sonality development in this way. Thus satisfying one's lust must 
be at considerable expense to one's self-esteem, since the bad 
girls are unworthy and not really people in the sense that good 
girls are. So wherever you find a person who makes this sharp 
separation of members of the other sex into those who are, you 
might say, lustful and those who are nonlustful, you may assume 
that this person has quite a cleavage with respect to his genital 
behavior, so that he is not really capable of integrating it into his 
life, simply and with self-respect. 

These sundry collisions that come along at this stage may be 
the principal motives for preadolescents or very early adolescents 
getting into "homosexual" play, with some remarkable variations. 
But a much more common outcome of these various collisions 
these difficulties in developing activity to suit one's needs is the 
breaking out of a great deal of autosexual behavior, in which one 
satisfies one's own lust as best one can; this behavior appears be- 
cause of the way in which preadolescent society breaks up, and 
because of the various inhibitions which have been inculcated on 
the subject of freedom regarding the genitals. Now this activity, 
commonly called masturbation, has in general been rather se- 
verely condemned in every culture that generally imposes marked 
restrictions on freedom of sexual development. That's very neat, 
you see; it means that adolescence is going to be hell whatever 
you do, unless you have wonderful preparation for being different 
from everyone else in which case you may get into trouble for 
being different. 

Incidentally, problems of masturbation are sufficiently com- 
mon, even among the wise, so that a word might be said here re- 
garding what seems to be a sound psychiatric view of the matter. 
The question sometimes arises as to whether masturbation is good 
or bad. Now whenever a psychiatrist is confronted by such a 
question, he may well take it under advisement to see whether he 
can reformulate it into a question that he can, as a psychiatrist, 
deal with; psychiatrists don't dispense these absolute qualifications 

Early Adolescence 269 

of good or bad. The nearest we can approach such values is to 
decide whether a thing is better or worse in terms of the interper- 
sonal present and near future. From this approach, one can note 
that in this culture the developmental progress in connection with 
the adolescent change is handicapped by both lack of preparation 
and absolute taboos on certain freedoms; but lust combined with 
the need for intimacy frequently does drive the victim toward cor- 
recting certain warps in personality and toward developing cer- 
tain facilities, certain abilities, in interpersonal relations. There is 
no way that I know of by which one can, all by oneself, satisfy 
the need for intimacy, cut off the full driving power of loneliness, 
although loneliness can be manipulated or reduced to a certain 
extent. But through autosexual performance one can prevent lust 
from reaching tension sufficient to break down one's barriers. For 
that reason, the entirely exclusive use of autoerotic procedures 
can contribute to the prolongation of warp, which in turn con- 
tributes to the continued handicap for life of the person con- 
cerned. It is from this viewpoint alone that I would consider that 
masturbation, as the only solution for the sundry collisions that 
lust enters into, is worse than almost anything else that is not 
definitely malevolent. Needless to say, such an argument becomes 
meaningless if, as is so often the case in genital behavior, the 
autoerotic performance is not fixed and exclusive but is incidental 
or occasional. Arguments against masturbation based on anything 
other than this particular reason seem to me to smack more of 
unanalyzed prejudice on the part of the arguer than of good sense. 

Fortune and Misfortune in Heterosexual 

My next topic is the rather important one of the fortune and 
misfortune which the early adolescent has in his experimentation 
toward reaching a heterosexual type of experience. In the olden 
days when I was distinctly more reckless than now, I thought that 
a good many of the people I saw as mental patients would have 
been luckier in their adolescence had they carried on their prelim- 
inary heterosexual experimentation with a good-natured prosti- 

270 Harry Stack Sullivan 

tute that is, this would have been fortunate in comparison to 
what actually had happened to them. Not that I regard prostitutes 
as highly developed personalities of the other sex; but if they hap- 
pen to be in the business of living off their participation in genital 
sport and are friendly, they at least will know a good deal about 
the problems in this field that earlier adolescents encounter, and 
will treat them with sympathy, understanding, and encourage- 
ment; but unfortunately, a great many of these experiments are 
conducted with people who are themselves badly, though differ- 
ently, warped. The number of wretched experiences connected 
with adolescents' first heterosexual attempts is legion, and the 
experiences are sometimes very expensive to further maturation 
of personality. If there has been a lively lustful fantasy and little 
or no overt behavior with respect to the genitals which inci- 
dentally will tend very strongly to characterize everyone who has 
this primary genital phobia I have spoken of then it is almost 
certain that on the verge of an actual genital contact, precocious 
orgasm will occur in the man; and this precocious orgasm sud- 
denly wipes out the integration and just leaves two people in a 
practically meaningless situation although they had previously 
made immense sense to each other. Such an occurrence reflects 
very severely on the self-esteem of the man concerned and 
thereby initiates a still more unfortunate process which is apt to 
appear as impotence. The recollection of so disastrous an occur- 
rence, which has been in terms of anxiety pretty costly, is quite 
apt to result in either of two outcomes: there may be an over- 
weening conviction that that's the way it's going to go, that one 
just hasn't any ^virility," that one's manhood is deficient; or there 
may be frantic attempts to prove otherwise, which, if they were 
kept up long enough, would work Unless there has been some 
genital activity, or unless the woman is quite expert in reducing 
the anxiety of the male, or even his sexual excitement, this pre- 
cocious orgasm is very apt to be a man's introduction to hetero- 
sexual life. Needless to say, it has about as much true significance 
as drinking a glass of water that is, if one could accept it in 
perfectly calm and rational fashion, it would prove absolutely 
nothing except that it had occurred once, and one could subse- 
quently see whether it was going to be typical behavior or 

Early Adolescence 27! 

whether it was an accident. It usually isn't typical unless its effects 
are disastrous, in which case it can be stamped in as a sort oi 
morbid way of handling one's incapacity to integrate true lust- 
ful situations, or as a channel for various other things which I 
shall discuss presently. 

In other instances in which there is a lack of experience and 
considerable warp in the personalities concerned, lust may carry 
things through to orgasm, usually of only one partner; but im- 
mediately upon the satisfaction of the lust dynamism and the 
disintegration of the situation as a lustful situation, the persons 
concerned may become the prey of guilt, shame, aversion, or 
revulsion for each other, or at least this may be true for one of the 
people concerned. And this experience is not a particularly fortu- 
nate addition to one's learning how to live in the world as it is, 
A much less usual, but also unfortunate, event in this initial 
experimentation in genital activity is that if it has gone pretty well 
it may become a high-grade preoccupation. This is usually to be 
understood on the general theory of preoccupation and is just as 
morbid as any other preoccupation. Since lust has a peculiarly 
strong biological basis, and, in some people, may be an ever re- 
current and very driving force in early adolescence, this preoccu- 
pation with lust can lead to serious deterioration of self-respect 
because of the unpleasant situations one is driven into, because 
of the disapproval one encounters, and because this type of pre- 
occupation literally interferes with almost any commonplace way 
of protecting one's self-esteem. A great many people whose self- 
esteem has been somewhat uncertain, depending on scholarship 
only, find their standing as students rapidly declining as they 
become completely preoccupied with the pursuit of lust objects. 
Thus they become the prey of severe anxiety, since their only 
distinction is now being knocked in half. 

With truly distressing frequency, these sundry problems con- 
nected with early adolescence cause the persons concerned to 
turn to alcohol, one of the great mental-hygiene props in the cul- 
ture, with unfortunate results. I sometimes think alcohol is, more 
than any other human invention, the basis for the duration and 
growth of the Western world. I am quite certain that no such 
complex, wonderful, and troublesome organization of society 

272 Harry Stack Sullivan 

could have lasted long enough to become conspicuous if a great 
number of its unhappy denizens did not have this remarkable 
chemical compound with which to get relief from intolerable 
problems of anxiety. But its capacity for dealing with those prob- 
lems naturally makes it a menace under certain circumstances, 
as I scarcely think I need argue. Like a good many other props 
which temporarily remedy but do not in any sense favorably 
alter cultural impossibilities, it is costly, not to all, but to too 
many. A peculiarity of alcohol is that it interferes very promptly 
with complex, refined referential operations, particularly those 
that are recent that have not been deeply and extensively 
involved in the whole business of living while it does not par- 
ticularly disturb the older and more essential dynamisms of per- 
sonality. It definitely poisons the self-system progressively, begin- 
ning with the most recent and most complex of the self -system's 
functions. So personality under alcohol is less competent at pro- 
tecting itself from anxiety, but practically all the anxiety is experi- 
enced later, retrospectively. Since the self -function, which is, of 
course, very intimately connected with the occurrence of anxiety, 
is inhibited and disturbed by alcohol, but one's later recall is not, 
one experiences the anxiety in retrospect, you see. And the prob- 
lems that get one all too dependent on alcohol are, I think, the 
problems of sexual adjustment, which hit hardest in early ado- 

The Separation of Lust from Intimacy 

I want next to discuss misfortunes of development in early 
adolescence in which there is, as the outstanding characteristic, 
a separation of those interpersonal relations motivated by lust 
from those based on the need for intimacy that is, motivated by 
loneliness. This sharp division is merely a very much more exten- 
sive and enduring deviation of personality than the kind of clas- 
sification of heterophilic objects for example, into good women 
and bad women which I previously mentioned. The need for in- 
timacy has been gradually developing along its own lines from 
very ancient roots, while lust has only recently and vividly 

Early Adolescence 273 

appeared. The complex outcomes of these developmental inter- 
personal relations which are scarcely parallel and are actually di- 
vergent are a very rich source for problems which concern the 
psychiatrist. Some people are unfortunate enough to sublimate, as 
we still have to call it, their lust that is, to partially satisfy it 
while connecting it with socially acceptable goals. This is, as I 
would again like to remind you, an extremely dangerous over- 
loading of possibilities, which is very apt to collapse in a lament- 
able way. I am postponing a discussion of what happens to lust 
under these circumstances. But the intimacy need sometimes 
shows itself as follows: A member of the other sex who is in a 
good many ways like the parent of that sex may become invested 
with full-fledged "love" and devotion. Another, not so striking 
instance, is the pseudo-sibling relation. There are, of course, 
many jokes in the culture about the girl who is willing to be a 
sister to you. But I wonder if you realize how many unfortunate 
early adolescents get by with the appearance of personality de- 
velopment by striking up one of these pseudo-sibling relation- 
ships, which can be mistaken by others for a satisfactory move 
toward developing a solution for the problems of lust and loneli- 
ness. Another change of this kind is, we might say, a prolonga- 
tion and refinement of the separation of good and bad girls: All 
women are good too good; they are noble, and one cannot 
approach them for anything so something-or-other as genital 
satisfaction. And there is the alternative of that, in which all 
women are regarded as extremely unattractive, unsuited to any- 
thing but a particular kind of hateful entanglement which be- 
comes practically official business. 

In the process of trying to separate one's need for intimacy 
from one's need for genital integration, certain peculiarities of 
personality appear which we will later discuss as dissociation, 
Among the people with these peculiarities of personality pertain- 
ing to the need for intimacy, there is the one who feels pursued 
by the other sex and actually spends a lot of time in trying to 
avoid being hounded by the other sex. There is also the true 
woman-hater that is, the man who literally feels the most strenu- 
ous antipathy to any but the most superficial relation with mem- 
bers of the other sex. When lust is dissociated and components 

274 Harry Stack Sullivan 

in lust are quite frequently dissociated such things occur, even 
from early adolescence, as the celibate way of life, in some cases 
with accessible lustful fantasies, and in other cases with no repre- 
sentation of lustful needs in awareness. This latter can go so far 
that actually there are no recollections of any content connected 
with what must have been the satisfaction of lust in sleep; in other 
words, there are nocturnal orgasms, but there is never any recol- 
lectable content at all. When one encounters that sort of thing, 
one thinks immediately that something has gone very radically 
wrong with the personality. Another manifestation in this field is 
what I call, in terms of a man's viewpoint, horror of the female 
genitals; even though the man considers that women are all right, 
and in fact, in many instances, may make a very good approach 
to them, the actual attempt at a physical intergenital situation 
causes the man to be overcome with a feeling which is literally 
uncanny, which is quite paralyzing. As I have already hinted, all 
these uncanny feelings refer to the not-me, and are, by this stage 
of personality, practically always signs that there is serious dis- 
sociation somewhere in personality. Another solution of this kind 
is to fall into a homosexual way of getting rid of lust; this is 
accompanied either by liking, by indifference, or by aversion 
toward the partner, or by revulsion or by fascination for the 
whole type of situation. 

In this special group of disturbances of development, there are 
also the instances in which the genital drive is discharged with 
infrahuman or nearly infrahuman participation that is, some of 
the lower animals are used as genital partners, or people are used 
whom the person has so much prejudice against that he scarcely 
considers them to be human. Very occasionally human ingenuity 
leads people who suffer from primitive genital phobia to invent 
what are called masturbating machines. This is a phenomenon 
that gets a good deal of attention, more than it deserves, and is, 
supposedly, very interestingly connected with paranoid states. As 
a matter of fact, it does coincide more than occasionally with 
later paranoid states, but this relation has been vastly overac- 


The study of character is the contemporary successor to the study 
of symptoms in Freud's time. It was soon realized that symptoms 
were more than discrete examples of aberrant behavior; they were 
the results of the failure to maintain the organization of the rela- 
tively fixed modes of reaction which we call character. 

Freud was the first to point out character traits. He categorized 
them as "unchanged perpetuations of instinctual impulses, reac- 
tions against them, or sublimations of them." The implication 
that there is a direct relationship between infantile experience and 
adult character according to one or all of the three mechanisms 
quoted above persists in Freudian theory, Adler, one of the early 
deviants, emphasizes the importance of drives directed toward 
goals in the development of character. 

The contemporary selections given in this section demonstrate 
what some of the leading thinkers in the field consider important 
in the development of character types, without minimizing 
the importance of infancy and early childhood. These workers do 
not agree with the mechanisms postulated by Freud. In their 
views, the individual achieves this relatively fixed constellation of 
character traits on the basis of his adaptation to all of life's expe- 
riences, rather than on the way in which he handled conflicts 
arising at one or another libidinal state. 



Character and Anal Erotism* 

Among those whom one tries to help by means of psycho- 
analytic treatment, one very often meets with a type of character 
in which certain traits are strongly marked, while at the same 
time one's attention is arrested by the behaviour of these persons 
in regard to a certain bodily function and of the organ connected 
with it during their childhood. I can no longer say on what pre- 
cise occasions I first received the impression that a systematic 
relationship exists between this type of character and the activities 
of this organ, but I can assure the reader that no theoretical an- 
ticipations of mine played any part in its production. 

My belief in such a relationship has been so much strengthened 
by accumulated experience that I venture to make it the subject 
of a communication. 

The persons whom I am about to describe are remarkable for 
a regular combination of the three following peculiarities: they 
are exceptionally orderly, parsimonious, and obstinate. Each of 
these words really covers a small group or series of traits which 
are related to one another. "Orderly" comprises both bodily 
cleanliness and reliability and conscientiousness in the perform- 
ance of petty duties: the opposite of it would be "untidy" and 
"negligent." "Parsimony" may be exaggerated up to the point of 
avarice; and obstinacy may amount to defiance, with which irasci- 
bility and vindictiveness may easily be associated. The two latter 

* First published in the Psychiarrisch-Neurologisdhe Wochenschrift, Bd. 
IX., 1908; reprinted in Samm/ung, Zweite Folge. Reprinted here by per- 
mission of The Hogarth Press Ltd. from Freud's Collected Papers, Volume 2 
(The International Psycho-Analytical Library, No, 8). Translated by R. C. 


278 Sigmund Freud 

qualities parsimony and obstinacy hang together more closely 
than the third, orderliness; they are, too, the more constant ele- 
ment in the whole complex. It seems to me, however, incon- 
testable that all three in some way belong together. 

From the history of the early childhood of these persons one 
easily learns that they took a long time to overcome the infantile 
incontinentia alvi, and that even in later childhood they had to 
complain of isolated accidents relating to this function. As infants 
they seem to have been among those who refuse to empty the 
bowel when placed on the chamber, because they derive an inci- 
dental pleasure from the act of defecation; 1 for they assert that 
even in somewhat later years they have found a pleasure in hold- 
ing back their stools, and they remember, though more readily 
of their brothers and sisters than of themselves, all sorts of un- 
seemly performances with the stools when passed. From these 
indications we infer that the erotogenic significance of the anal 
zone is intensified in the innate sexual constitution of these per- 
sons; but since none of these weaknesses and peculiarities are to 
be found in them once childhood has been passed, we must con- 
clude that the anal zone has lost its erotogenic significance in the 
course of their development, and that the constant appearance of 
this triad of peculiarities in their character may be brought into 
relation with the disappearance of their anal erotism. 

I know that no one feels inclined to accept a proposition which 
appears unintelligible, and for which no explanation can be 
offered, but we can find the basis of such an explanation in the 
postulates I have formulated in my Drei Abhandlungen zur Sex- 
ualtheorie. I there attempt to show that the sexual instinct of 
man is very complex and is made up of contributions from nu- 
merous components and partial impulses. The peripheral stimula- 
tion of certain specialized parts (genitals, mouth, anus, urethra), 
which may be called erotogenic zones, furnishes important con- 
tributions to the production of sexual excitation, but the fate of 
the stimuli arising in these areas varies according to their source 
and according to the age of the person concerned. Generally 
speaking, only a part of them finds a place in the sexual life; 
another part is deflected from a sexual aim and is directed to 

1 Cf. Freud, Drei Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie, 1905. 

Character and Anal Erotism 279 

other purposes, a process which may be called sublimation. Dur- 
ing the period of life which may be distinguished as the "sexual 
latency period," i.e. from the end of the fourth year to the first 
manifestations of puberty at about eleven, reaction-formations, 
such as shame, disgust, and morality, are formed in the mental 
economy at the expense of the excitations proceeding from the 
erotogenic zones, and these leaction-formations erect themselves 
as barriers against the later activity of the sexual instinct. Now 
anal erotism is one of those components of the instinct which iu 
the course of evolution and in accordance with our present civiliz- 
ing education has become useless for sexual aims: it would therev 
fore be no very surprising result if these traits of orderliness, par* 
simony, and obstinacy, which are so prominent in persons who 
were formerly anal erotics, turned out to be the first and most 
constant results of the sublimation of anal erotism. 2 

3 Since it is just these remarks about the anal erotism of infants in my 
three contributions to the sexual theory that have most scandalized uncom- 
prehending readers, I venture to insert here an observation which I owe to 
a very intelligent patient. "An acquaintance of mine who has read the Drei 
Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie was talking about the book and said he fully 
accepted it, but one passage though naturally he also accepts and under- 
stands it appeared to him so grotesque and comic that he sat down and 
laughed over it tor a quarter of an hour. This passage runs: 'It is one of 
the best signs of later eccentricity or nervousness if an infant obstinately 
refuses to empty its bowel when placed on the chamber, that is, when the 
nurse wishes, but withholds this function at his own pleasure. Naturally it 
does not matter to the child if he soils his bed; his only concern is not to 
lose the pleasure incidental to the act of defgecation.' The picture of this 
infant sitting on the chamber and deliberating whether he should allow such 
a limitation of his personal independence, and of his anxiety not to lose the 
pleasure of defsecation, caused my friend the greatest merriment. Some twenty 
minutes later, as we were sitting at tea, my acquaintance suddenly remarked 
without any preliminary, "Do you know, there fust occurs to me, as I see the 
cocoa in front of me, an idea thai I always had as a child. I then always 
pretended to myself that I was the cocoa manufacturer Van Houten' (he 
pronounced it 'Van Hauten'), 'that I possessed a great secret for the prep- 
aration of this cocoa, and that all the world was trying to get this valuable 
secret from me, but that I carefully kept it to myself. Why it was Van 
Houten that I hit upon I do not know. Probably it was that his advertise- 
ments made the greatest impression on me.' Laughing, and without thinking 
much about the meaning of my words, I replied, 'Warm haut'n (Van 
Houten) die Mutter?* [When do mothers smack?] It was only later that I 
realized that my pun really contained the key to the whole of his sudden 
recollection from childhood, which I now recognized as a striking example of 
a screen-phantasy, setting at rest the sense of guilt by means of a complete 
reversal of the value of its memory content, while ft retained its reference to 

280 Sigmund Freud 

The inherent necessity of this relationship is naturally not clear 
even to myself, but I can make some suggestions which help 
towards an understanding of it. The cleanliness, orderliness, and 
reliability give exactly the impression of a reaction-formation 
against an interest in things that are unclean and intrusive and 
ought not to be on the body ("Dirt is matter in the wrong 
place"). To bring obstinacy into relation with interest in defeca- 
tion seems no easy task, but it should be remembered that infants 
can very early behave with great self-will about parting with their 
stools (see above), and that painful stimuli to the skin of the but- 
tocks (which is connected with the anal erotogenic zone) are 
an instrument in the education of the child designed to break 
his self-will and make him submissive. As an expression of de- 
fiance or of defiant mockery, a challenge referring to a caress on 
this part of the body is used even at the present day, as in former 
times that is, it represents a tender feeling which has undergone 
repression. An exposure of the buttocks corresponds to the reduc- 
tion of this speech to a gesture; in Goethe's Gotz von Berlichm- 
gen we find both speech and gesture introduced most appropri- 
ately as expression of defiance. 

The connections which exist between the two complexes of 
interest in money and of defalcation, which seem so dissimilar, 
appear to be the most far-reaching. It is well known to every 
physician who has used psycho-analysis that the most refractory 
and obdurate cases of so-called chronic constipation in neurotics 
can be cured by this means. This is less surprising if we remem- 
ber that this function has shown itself equally amenable to hyp- 
notic suggestion. But in psycho-analysis one only attains this 
result when one deals with the money complex of the persons con- 
actual experience (the nutritional process) and was supported by a phonetic 
association: 'cocoa* Wann liautV (Van Houten). (Displacement from 
behind forwards; excrement becomes aliment; the shameful substance which 
has to be concealed turns into a secret which enriches the world.) It was 
interesting to me how in this case, after a defense-reaction, which to be sure 
took the comparatively mild form of a merely formal objection, the most 
striking evidence was supplied from the subject's own unconscious after a 
quarter of an hour without any effort on his part." 

[Besides the pun on the word Van Houten, there is probably a further 
association between the German for cocoa (Kakao) and for the nursery term 
tor fseces in that language, KaJa's. Compare also the English caca for faeces. 
Trans. J 

Character and Anal Erotism 281 

cerned, and induces them to bring it into consciousness with all 
its connections. One might suppose that the neurosis is here only 
following a hint from common speech which calls a person who 
keeps too careful a hold on his money "dirty" or "filthy," but this 
would be far too superficial an explanation. In reality, wherever 
archaic modes of thought predominate or have persisted in 
ancient civilizations, m myth, fairy-tale and superstition, in 
unconscious thoughts and dreams, and in the neuroses money 
comes into the closest relation with excrement. We know how 
the money which the devil gives his paramours turns to excre- 
ment after his departure, and the devil is most certainly nothing 
more than a personification of the unconscious instinctual forces. 3 
The superstition, too, which associates the finding of treasure 
with defalcation is well known, and everyone is familiar with the 
figure of the "excretor of ducats" (Dukatenscheisser) . 4 Even in 
the early Babylon cult gold is "the excrement of Hell," Mammon 
= ilu manman. 5 Thus in following common speech, the neurosis, 
here as elsewhere, takes the words in their original most signifi- 
cant sense, and wherever it appears to express a word figuratively 
it usually only reproduces its original meaning. 

It is possible that the contrast between the most precious sub- 
stance known to man and the most worthless, which he rejects 
as "something thrown out," has contributed to this identification 
of gold with faeces. 

Yet another circumstance facilitates this equivalence in the 
mental processes involved in neurosis. The original erotic interest 
in defalcation is, as we know, destined to be extinguished in 
later years; it is in these years that the interest in money is making 
its appearance as something new which was unknown in child- 
hood. This makes it easier for the earlier impulse, which is in 
process of relinquishing its aim, to be carried over to the new one. 

8 Compare hysterical possession and demoniac epidemics. 

* [Unfamiliar to English readers, but compare "the goose which lays golden 
eggs.'* Trans.] 

5 Jeremias, Das AIre Testament irn Lichte des alten Orients, 1906, p. 216,. 
and Babylonisches fm Neuen Testament, 1906, p. 96. "Mammon is Babylonian 
'Manman/ another name of Nergal, the god of the underworld. According 
to an Oriental myth which has passed over into sagas and folk-tales, gold is 
the excrement of hell; see Monotheistische Stromungen innerhalb der baby- 
Jonfschen Religion, S. 16, Anmk. i." 

282 Sigmund Freud 

If there is any reality in the relation described here between 
anal erotism and this triad of character-traits, one may expect to 
find but little of the "anal character" in persons who have re- 
tained the erotogenic quality of the anal zone into adult life, as 
for example certain homosexuals. Unless I am greatly mistaken 
experience on the whole is fully in accord with this anticipation. 

One ought to consider whether other types of character do not 
also show a connection with the excitability of particular eroto- 
genic zones. As yet I am aware only of the intense, "burning" 
ambition of those who formerly suffered from enuresis. At any 
rate, one can give a formula for the formation of the ultimate 
character from the constituent character-traits: the permanent 
character- traits are either unchanged perpetuations of the original 
impulses, sublimations of them, or reaction-formations against 



Individual Psychology, Its 
Assumptions and Its Results 4 

A survey of the views and theories of most psychologists indicates 
a peculiar limitation both in the nature of their field of investiga- 
tion and in their methods of inquiry. They act as if experience 
and knowledge of mankind were, with conscious intent, to be 
excluded from our investigations and all value and importance 
denied to artistic and creative vision as well as to intuition itself. 
While the experimental psychologists collect and devise phe- 
nomena in order to determine types of reaction that is, are con- 
cerned with the physiology of the psychical life properly speaking 
other psychologists arrange all forms of expression and mani- 
festations in old customary, or at best slightly altered, systems. 
By this procedure they naturally rediscover the interdependence 
and connection in individual expressions, implied from the very 
beginning in their schematic attitude toward the psyche. 

Either the foregoing method is employed or an attempt is made 
by means of small, if possible measurable individual phenom- 
ena of a physiological nature, to construct psychical states and 
thought by means of an equation. The fact that all subjective 
thinking and subjective immersion on the part of the investigator 
are excluded although in reality they dominate the very nature 
of these connections is from this viewpoint regarded as an 

* Reprinted from The Practice and Theory of Individual Psychology by 
permission of Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd. and the Humanities Press Inc. 


284 Alfred Adler 

The method employed, and the very importance it seems to 
possess as a preparation for the human mind, reminds us of the 
type of natural science completely antiquated to-day, with its 
rigid systems, replaced everywhere now by views that attempt to 
grasp living phenomena and their variations as connected wholes, 
biologically, philosophically, and psychologically. This is also the 
purpose of that movement in psychology that I have called "com- 
parative individual-psychology." By starting with the assumption 
of the unity of the individual, an attempt is made to obtain a pic- 
ture of this unified personality regarded as a variant of individual 
life-manifestations and forms of expression. The individual traits 
are then compared with one another, brought into a common 
plane, and finally fused together to form a composite portrait that 
is, in turn, individualized. 1 

It may have been noticed that this method of looking upon 
man's psychic life is by no means either unusual or even particu- 
larly daring. This type of approach is particularly noticeable in 
the study of child-psychology, hi spite of other lines of inquiry 
also used there. It is the essence and the nature above all of the 
work of the artist, be he painter, sculptor, musician, or particu- 
larly poet, so to present the minute traits of his creations that the 
observer is able to obtain from them the general principles of per- 
sonality. He is thus in a position to reconstruct those very things 
that the artist when thinking of his finale had previously hidden 
therein. Since life in any given society, life without any of the pre- 
conceptions of science, has always been under the ban of the 
question "whither?", we are warranted in definitely stating that, 
scientific views to the contrary notwithstanding, no man has ever 
made a judgment about an event without endeavouring to strain 
toward the point which seems to bind together all the psychic 
manifestations of an individual; even to an imagined goal if 

When I hurry home, I am certain to exhibit to any observer 
the carriage, expression, the gait, and the gestures that are to be 
expected of a person returning home. My reflexes indeed might 
be different from those anticipated, the causes might vary. The 

1 William Stern has come to the same conclusions starting from a different 
method of approach. 

Individual Psychology, Its Assumptions and Its Results 285 

essential point to be grasped psychologically and the one which 
interests us exclusively and practically and psychologically more 
than all others, is the path followed. 

Let me observe that if I know the goal of a person I know in 
a general way what will happen. I am in a position to bring into 
their proper order each of the successive movements made, to 
view them in their connections, to correct them and to make, 
where necessary, the required adaptations for my approximate 
psychological knowledge of these associations. If I am acquainted 
only with the causes, know only the reflexes, the reaction-times, 
the ability to repeat and such facts, I am aware of nothing that 
actually takes place in the soul of the man. 

We must remember that the person under observation would 
not know what to do with himself were he not orientated toward 
some goal. As long as we are not acquainted with the objective 
which determines his "life-line," the whole system of his recog- 
nized reflexes, together with all their causal conditions, can give 
us no certainty as to his next series of movements. They might be 
brought into harmony with practically any psychic resultant. This 
deficiency is most clearly felt in association-tests. I would never 
expect a man suffering from some great disappointment to associ- 
ate "tree" with "rope." The moment I knew his objective, how- 
ever, namely suicide, then I might very well expect that particular 
sequence of thoughts expect it with such certainty that I would 
remove knives, poison, and weapons from his immediate vicinity. 

If we look at the matter more closely, we shall find the follow- 
ing law holding in the development of all psychic happenings: we 
cannot think, feel, will, or act without the perception of some 
goal. For all the causalities in the world would not suffice to con- 
quer the chaos of the future nor obviate the planlessness to which 
we would be bound to fall a victim. All activity would persist in 
the stage of uncontrolled gropings; the economy visible in our 
psychic life unattained; we should be unintegrated and in every 
aspect of our physiognomy, in every personal touch, similar to 
organisms of the rank of the amoeba. 

No one will deny that by assuming an objective for our psychic 
life we accommodate ourselves better to reality. This can be easily 
demonstrated. For its truth in individual examples, where phe- 

286 Alfred Adler 

nomena are torn from their proper connections, no doubt exists. 
Only watch, from this point of view, the attempts at walking 
made by a small child or a woman recovering from a confine- 
ment. Naturally he who approaches this whole matter without 
any theory is likely to find its deeper significance escape him. Yet 
it is a fact that before the first step has been taken the objective 
of the person's movement has already been determined. 

In the same way it can be demonstrated that all psychic activi- 
ties are given a direction by means of a previously determined 
goal. All the temporary and partially visible objectives, after the 
short period of psychic development of childhood, are under the 
domination of an imagined terminal goal, of a final point felt 
and conceived of as definitely fixed. In other words the psychic 
life of man is made to fit into the fifth act like a character drawn 
by a good dramatist. 

The conclusion thus to be drawn from the unbiased study of 
any personality viewed from the standpoint of individual-psy- 
chology leads us to the following important proposition: every 
psychic phenomenon, if it is to give us any understanding of a 
person, can only be grasped and understood if regarded as a 
preparation for some goal. 

To what an extent this conception promotes our psychological 
understanding, is clearly apparent as soon as we become aware of 
the multiplicity of meaning of those psychical processes that have 
been torn from their proper context. Take for example the case 
of a man with a "bad memory." Assume that he is quite con- 
scious of this fact and that an examination discloses an inferior 
capacity for the repetition of meaningless syllables. According to 
present usage in psychology, which we might more properly call 
an abuse, we would have to make the following inference: the 
man is suffering, from hereditary or pathological causes, from 
a deficient capacity for repetition. Incidentally, let me add, that 
in this type of investigation we generally find the inference al- 
ready stated in different words in the premises. In this case e.g. 
we have the following proposition: if a man has a bad memory, 
or if he only remembers a few words then he has an inferior 
capacity for repetition. 

The procedure in individual-psychology is completely different. 

Individual Psychology, Its Assumptions and Its Results 287 

After excluding the possibility of all organic causes, we would 
ask ourselves what is the objective of this weakness of memory? 
This we could only determine if we were in possession of an inti- 
mate knowledge of the whole individual, so that an understand- 
ing of one part becomes possible only after we have understood 
the whole. And we should probably find the following to hold true 
in a large number of cases: this man is attempting to prove to 
himself and to others that for certain reasons of a fundamental 
nature, that are either not to be named or have remained uncon- 
scious, but which can most effectively be represented by poorness 
of memory, he must not permit himself to perform some par- 
ticular act or to come to a given decision (change of profession, 
studies, examination, marriage). We should then have unmasked 
this weakness of memory as tendentious and could understand 
its importance as a weapon against a contemplated undertaking. 
In every test of ability to repeat we should then expect to find 
the deficiency due to the secret life-plan of an individual. The 
question then to be asked is how such deficiencies or evils arise. 
They may be simply "arranged" by purposely underlining general 
physiological weaknesses and interpreting them as personal suf- 
ferings. Others may succeed either by subjective absorption into 
an abnormal condition or by pre-occupation with dangerous pes- 
simistic anticipations, in so weakening their faith in their own 
capacities, that their strength, attention or will-power are only 
partially at their disposal. 

A similar observation may be made in the case of affects. 
To give one more example, take the case of a woman subject to 
outbreaks of anxiety recurring at certain intervals. As long as 
nothing of greater significance than this was discernible, the as- 
sumption of some hereditary degeneration, some disease of the 
vaso-motor system, of the vagus nerve, etc., sufficed. It is also 
possible that we might have regarded ourselves as having arrived 
at a fuller understanding of the case, if we had discovered in 
the previous history of the patient, some frightful experience, 
or traumatic condition and attributed the disease to it. As soon, 
however, as we examined the personality of this individual and 
inquired into her directive-lines we discovered an excess of 
will-to-power, with which anxiety as a weapon of aggression had 

288 Alfred Adler 

associated itself, an anxiety which was to become operative as 
soon as the force of the will-power had abated and the desired 
resonance was absent, a situation occurring, for example, when 
the patient's husband left the house without her consent. 

Our science demands a markedly individualizing procedure and 
is consequently not much given to generalizations. For general 
guidance I would like to propound the following rule: as soon 
as the goal of a psychic movement or its life-plan has been recog- 
nized, then -we are to assume that all the movements of its con- 
stituent parts will coincide with both the goal and the life-plan. 

This formulation, with some minor provisos, is to be main- 
tained in the widest sense. It retains its value even if inverted: 
the properly understood part-movements must -when combined, 
give the picture of an integrated life-plan and final goal. Conse- 
quently we insist that, without worrying about the tendencies, 
milieu and experiences, all psychical powers are under the con- 
trol of a directive idea and all expressions of emotion, feeling, 
thinking, willing, acting, dreaming as well as psycho-pathological 
phenomena, are permeated by one unified life-plan. Let me, by 
a slight suggestion, prove and yet soften down these heretical 
propositions: more important than tendencies, objective experi- 
ence and milieu is the subjective evaluation, an evaluation which 
stands furthermore in a certain, often strange, relation to realities. 
Out of this evaluation, however, which generally results in the de- 
velopment of a permanent mood of the nature of a feeling of 
inferiority there arises, depending upon the unconscious technique 
of our thought-apparatus, an imagined goal, an attempt at a 
planned final compensation and a life-plan. 

I have so far spoken a good deal of men who have "grasped 
the situation." My discussion has been as irritating as that of the 
theorists of the "psychology of understanding" or of the psy- 
chology of personality, who always break off just when they are 
about to show us what exactly it is they have understood, as for 
instance, Jaspers. The danger of discussing briefly this aspect of 
our investigations, namely, the results of individual-psychology, 
is sufficiently great. To do so we should be compelled to force the 
dynamics of life into static words and pictures, overlook differ- 
ences in order to obtain unified formulas, and have, in short, in 

Individual Psychology, Its Assumptions and Its Results 289 

our description to make that very mistake that in practice is 
strictly prohibited: of approaching the psychic life of the indi- 
vidual with a dry formula, as the Freudian school attempt. 

This then being my assumption, I shall in the following present 
to you the most important results of our study of psychic life. 
Let me emphasize the fact that the dynamics of psychic life that 
I am about to describe hold equally for healthy and diseased. 
What distinguishes the nervous from the healthy individual is 
the stronger safeguarding tendency with which the former's life- 
plan is filled. With regard to the "positing of a goal" and the life- 
plan adjusted to it there are no fundamental differences. 

I shall consequently speak of a general goal of man. A 
thorough-going study has taught us that we can best understand 
the manifold and diverse movements of the psyche as soon as our 
most general pre-suppositton, that the psyche has as its objective 
the goal of superiority, is recognized. Great thinkers have given 
expression to much of this; in part everyone knows it, but in the 
main it is hidden in mysterious darkness and comes definitely 
to the front only in insanity or in ecstatic conditions. Whether a 
person desires to be an artist, the first in his profession, or a tyrant 
in his home, to hold converse with God or humiliate other 
people; whether he regards his suffering as the most important 
thing in the world to which everyone must show obeisance, 
whether he is chasing after unattainable ideas or old deities, over- 
stepping all limits and norms, at every part of his way he is 
guided and spurred on by his longing for superiority, the thought 
of his godlikeness, the belief in his special magical power. In his 
love he desires to experience his power over his partner. In his 
purely optional choice of profession the goal floating before 
his mind manifests itself in all sorts of exaggerated anticipations 
and fears, and thirsting for revenge, he experiences in suicide a 
triumph over all obstacles. In order to gain control over an object 
or over a person, he is capable of proceeding along a straight line, 
bravely, proudly, overbearing, obstinate, cruel; or he may on the 
other hand prefer, forced by experience, to resort to by-paths and 
circuitous routes, to gain his victory by obedience, submission, 
mildness and modesty. Nor have traits of character an independ- 
ent existence, for they are also adjusted to the individual life-plan, 

290 Alfred Adler 

really representing the most important preparations for conflict 
possessed by the latter. 

This goal of complete superiority, with its strange appearance 
at times, does not come from the world of reality. Inherently 
we must place it under "fictions" and "imaginations." Of these 
Vaihinger (The Philosophy of "As If) rightly says that their 
importance lies in the fact that whereas in themselves without 
meaning, they nevertheless possess in practice the greatest im- 
portance. For our case this coincides to such an extent that we 
may say that this fiction of a goal of superiority so ridiculous 
from the view-point of reality, has become the principal condi- 
tioning factor of our life as hitherto known. It is this that teaches 
us to differentiate, gives us poise and security, moulds and guides 
our deeds and activities and forces our spirit to look ahead and 
to perfect itself. There is of course also an obverse side, for this 
goal introduces into our life a hostile and fighting tendency, robs 
us of the simplicity of our feelings and is always the cause for an 
estrangement from reality since it puts near to our hearts the idea 
of attempting to over-power reality. Whoever takes this goal of 
godlikeness seriously or literally, will soon be compelled to flee 
from real life and compromise, by seeking a life within life; if 
fortunate in art, but more generally in pietism, neurosis or crime. 2 

I cannot give you particulars here. A clear indication of this 
super-mundane goal is to be found in every individual. Sometimes 
this is to be gathered from a man's carriage, sometimes it is dis- 
closed only in his demands and expectations. Occasionally one 
comes upon its track in obscure memories, phantasies and 
dreams. If purposely sought it is rarely obtained. However, every 
bodily or mental attitude indicates clearly its origin in a striving 
for power and carries within itself the ideal of a kind of perfec- 
tion and infallibility. In those cases that lie on the confines of 
neurosis there is always to be discovered a reinforced pitting 
of oneself against the environment, against the dead or heroes of 
the past. 

A test of the correctness of our interpretation can be easily 
made. If everyone possesses within himself an ideal of superiority, 

a Cf. also "The Problem of Distance," in this volume [pp. 100-108 of The 
Practice and Theoiy of Individual Psychology]. 

Individual Psychology, Its Assumptions and Its Results 291 

such as we find to an exaggerated degree among the nervous, then 
we ought to encounter phenomena whose purpose is the op- 
pression, the minimizing and undervaluation of others. Traits of 
character such as intolerance, dogmatism, envy, pleasure at the 
misfortune of others, conceit, boastfulness, mistrust, avarice, 
in short all those attitudes that are the substitutes for a struggle, 
force their way through to a far greater extent, in fact, than self- 
preservation demands. 

Similarly, either simultaneously or interchangingly, depending 
upon the zeal and the self-confidence with which the final goal 
is sought, we see emerging indications of pride, emulation, cour* 
age, the attitudes of saving, bestowing and directing. A psycho- 
logical investigation demands so much objectivity that a moral 
evaluation will not disturb the survey. In fact the different levels 
of character-traits actually neutralize our good-will and our dis- 
approval. Finally we must remember that these hostile traits, par- 
ticularly in the case of the nervous, are often so concealed that 
their possessor is justifiably astonished and irritated when atten- 
tion is drawn to them. For example, the elder of two children can 
create quite an uncomfortable situation in trying to arrogate 
to himself through defiance and obstinacy, all authority in the 
family. The younger child pursues a wiser course, poses as a 
model of obedience and succeeds in this manner in becoming the 
idol of the family and in having all wishes gratified. As ambition 
spurs hull on, all willingness to obey becomes destroyed and 
pathological-compulsion phenomena develop, by means of which 
every parental order is nullified even when the parents notice that 
the child is making efforts to remain obedient. Thus we have an 
act of obedience immediately nullified by means of a compulsion- 
thought. We get an idea of the circuitous path taken here in order 
to arrive at the same objective as that of the other child. 

The whole weight of the personal striving for power and su- 
periority passes, at a very early age in the case of the child, into 
the form and the content of its striving, its thought being able to 
absorb for the time being only so much as the eternal, real and 
physiologically rooted community -feeling permits. Out of the lat- 
ter are developed tenderness, love of neighbour, friendship and 
love, the desire for power unfolding itself in a veiled manner and 

292 Alfred Adler 

seeking secretly to push its way along the path of group con- 

At this place let me go out of my way to endorse an old funda- 
mental conception of all who know human nature. Every marked 
attitude of a man can be traced back to an origin in childhood. 
In the nursery are formed and prepared all of man's future atti- 
tudes. Fundamental changes are produced only by means of an 
exceedingly high degree of introspection or among neurotics by 
means of the physician's individual psychological analysis. 

Let me, on the basis of another case, one which must have 
happened innumerable times, discuss in even greater detail the 
positing of goals by nervous people. A remarkably gifted man 
who by his amiability and refined behaviour had gained the love 
of a girl of high character, became engaged to her. He then 
forced upon her his ideal of education which made severe de- 
mands upon her. For a time she endured these unbearable orders 
but finally put an end to all further ordeals by breaking off rela- 
tions. The man then broke down and became a prey to nervous 
attacks. The individual-psychological examination of the case 
showed that the superiority-goal in the case of this patient as 
his domineering demands upon his bride indicated had long ago 
pushed from his mind all thought of marriage, and that his object 
really was to secretly work toward a break, secretly because he 
did not feel himself equal to the open struggle in which he 
imagined marriage to consist. This disbelief in himself itself 
dated from his earliest childhood, to a time during which he, an 
only son, lived with an early widowed mother somewhat cut off 
from the world. During this period, spent in continuous family 
quarrels he had received the ineradicable impression, one he had 
never openly admitted to himself, that he was not sufficiently 
virile, and would never be able to cope with a woman. These 
psychical attitudes are comparable to a permanent inferiority- 
feeling and it is easily understood how they had decisively inter- 
fered in his life and compelled him to obtain prestige along other 
lines than those obtainable through the fulfilment of the demands 
,of reality. 

It is clear that the patient attained just what his concealed 

Individual Psychology, Its Assumptions and Its Results 293 

preparations for bachelordom aimed at, and what his fear of a 
life-partner, with the quarrels and restless relationship this im- 
plied, had awakened in him. Nor can it be denied that he took' 
the same attitude toward both his bride and his mother, namely 
the wish to conquer. This attitude induced by a longing for vic- 
tory has been magnificently misinterpreted by the Freudian school 
as the permanently incestuous condition of being enamoured of 
the mother. As a matter of fact this reinforced childhood-feeling 
of inferiority occasioned by the patient's painful relation to his 
mother, spurred this man on to prevent any struggle in later life 
with a wife by providing himself with all kinds of safeguards. 
Whatever it is we understand by love, in this particular case it is 
simply a means to an end and that end is the final securing of 
a triumph over some suitable woman. Here we have the reason 
for the continual tests and orders and for the cancelling of the 
engagement. This solution had not just "happened," but had on 
the contrary been artistically prepared and arranged with the old 
weapons of experience employed previously in the case of his 
mother. A defeat in marriage was out of the question because 
marriage was prevented. 

Although we consequently realize nothing puzzling in the be- 
haviour of this man and should recognize in his domineering 
attitude simply aggression posing as love, some words of explana- 
tion are necessary to clear up the less intelligible nervous break- 
down. We are here entering upon the real domain of the psy- 
chology of neuroses. As in the nursery so here our patient has 
been worsted by a woman. The neurotic individual is led in such 
cases to strengthen his protections and to retire to a fairly great 
distance from danger. 3 Our patient is utilizing his break-down 
in order to feed an evil reminiscence, to bring up the question of 
guilt again, to solve it in an unfavourable sense for the woman, 
so that in future he may either proceed with even greater cau- 
tion or take final leave of love and matrimony! This man is thirty 
years old now. Let us assume that he is going to carry his pain 
along with him for another ten or twenty years and that he is 

8 Cf. "The Problem of Distance" in this volume. [The Practice and Theory 
of Individual Psychology, pp. 100-108] 

294 Alfred A deer 

going to mourn for his lost ideal for the same length of time. 
He has thereby protected himself against every love-affair and 
permanently saved himself from new defeat. 

He interprets his nervous break-down by means of old, now 
strengthened, weapons of experience, just as he had as a child 
refused to eat, sleep or to do anything and played the role of a 
dying person. His fortunes ebb and his beloved carries all the 
stigma, he himself rises superior to her in both culture and char- 
acter, and lo and behold: he has attained that for which he 
longed, for he is the superior person, becomes the better man and 
his partner like all girls is the guilty one. Girls cannot cope with 
the man in him. In this manner he has consummated what as a 
child he had already felt, the duty of demonstrating his superi- 
ority over the female sex. 

We can now understand that this nervous reaction can never be 
sufficiently definite or adequate. He is to wander through the 
world as a living reproach against women. 4 

Were he aware of his secret plans he would realize how ill- 
natured and evil-intentioned all his actions have been. However 
he would, in that case, not succeed in attaining his object of 
elevating himself above women. He would see himself just as we 
see him, falsifying the weights and how everything he has done 
has only led to a goal previously set. His success could not be 
described as due to "fate" nor assuredly would it represent any 
increased prestige. But his goal, his life-plan and his life-falsehood 
demand this prestige! In consequence it so "happens" that the 
life-plan remains in the unconscious, so that the patient may 
believe that an implacable fate and not a long prepared and long 
meditated plan for which he alone is responsible, is at work. 

I cannot go into a detailed description of what I call the "dis- 
tance" that the neurotic individual places between himself and 
the final issue, which in this case is marriage. The discussion of 
the manner in which he accomplishes it I must also postpone to 
my chapter on nervous "arrangements." I should like to point 
out here however that the "distance" expresses itself clearly in the 

* The paranoidal trait is recognizable. Cf. "Life-lie and Responsibility in 
Neurosis and Psychosis," in this volume. [The Practice and Theory of Indi- 
vidual Psychology, pp. 235-245.] 

Individual Psychology, Its Assumptions and Its Results 295 

"hesitating attitudes," the principles, the point of view and the 
life-falsehood. In its evolution neurosis and psychosis play lead- 
ing roles. The appropriation for this purpose of perversions and 
every type of impotence arising from the latter is quite frequent. 
Such a man concludes his account and reconciles himself with 
life by constructing one or a number of "if-clauses." "If con- 
ditions had been different. ..." 

The importance of the educational questions that arise and 
upon which our school lays the greatest stress (Heilen und Bilden, 
Munich, 1913) follows from what has been discussed. 

From the method of presentation of the present work it is to 
be inferred that as in the case of a psychotherapeutic cure, our 
analysis proceeds backwards; examining first the superiority -goal, 
explaining by means of it the type of conflict-attitude* adopted 
particularly by nervous patients and only then attempting to 
investigate the sources of the vital psychic mechanism. One of 
the bases of the psychical dynamics we have already mentioned, 
the presumably unavoidable artistic trait of the psychical appa- 
ratus which, by means of the artistic artifice of the creation of 
a fiction and the setting of a goal, adjusts itself to and extends 
itself into the world of possible reality. I shall now proceed to 
explain briefly how the goal of godlikeness transforms the rela- 
tion of the individual to his environment into hostility and how 
the struggle drives an individual towards a goal either along a 
direct path such as aggressiveness or along by-ways suggested 
by precaution. If we trace the history of this aggressive attitude 
back to childhood we always come upon the outstanding fact that 
throughout the whole period of development, the child possesses 
a feeling of inferiority in its relations both to parents and the 
world at large. Because of the immaturity of his organs, his un- 
certainty and lack of independence, because of his need for de- 
pendence upon stronger natures and his frequent and painful 
feeling of subordination to others, a sensation of inadequacy 
develops that betrays itself throughout life. This feeling of in- 
feriority is the cause of his continual restlessness as a child, his 
craving for action, his playing of roles, the pitting of his strength 

5 The "struggle for existence," the "struggle of all against all," etc., are 
merely other perspectives of the same kind. 

296 Alfred Adler 

against that of others, his anticipatory pictures of the future and 
his physical as well as mental preparations. The whole potential 
educability of the child depends upon this feeling of insufficiency. 
In this way the future becomes transformed into the land that 
will bring him compensations. His conflict-attitude is again re- 
flected in his feeling of inferiority; and only conflict does he 
regard as a compensation which will do away permanently with 
his present inadequate condition and will enable him to picture 
himself as elevated above others. Thus the child arrives at the 
positing of a goal, an imagined goal of superiority, whereby his 
poverty is transformed into wealth, his subordination into domi- 
nation, his suffering into happiness and pleasure, his ignorance 
into omniscience and his incapacity into artistic creation. The 
longer and more definitely the child feels his insecurity, the more 
he suffers either from physical or marked mental weakness, the 
more he is aware of life's neglect, the higher will this goal be 
placed and the more faithfully will it be adhered to. He who 
wishes to recognize the nature of this goal, should watch a child 
at play, at optionally selected occupations or when phantasy- 
ing about his future profession. The apparent change in these 
phenomena is purely external for in every new goal the child 
imagines a predetermined triumph. A variant of this weaving 
of plans, one frequently found among weakly aggressive children, 
among girls and sickly individuals, might be mentioned here. This 
consists of so misusing their frailties that they compel others to 
become subordinate to them. They will later on pursue the same 
method until their life-plan and life-falsehood have been clearly 

The attentive observer will find the nature of the compensatory 
dynamics presenting a quite extraordinary aspect as soon as he 
permits the sexual role to be relegated to one of minor importance 
and realizes that it is the former that is impelling the individual 
toward superhuman goals. In our present civilization both the 
girl and the youth will feel themselves forced to extraordinary 
exertions and manoeuvres, A large number of these are admittedly 
of a distinctively progressive nature. To preserve this progressive 
nature but to ferret out those by-paths that lead us astray and 
cause illness, to make these harmless, that is our object and one 

Individual Psychology, Its Assumptions and Its Results 291 

that takes us far beyond the limits of medical art. It is to this- 
aspect of our subject that society, child-education and folk-educa- 
tion may look for germs of a far-reaching kind. For the aim of 
this point-of-view is to gain a reinforced sense of reality, the de- 
velopment of a feeling of responsibility and a substitution for 
latent hatred of a feeling of mutual goodwill, all of which can be- 
gained only by the conscious evolution of a feeling for the com- 
mon weal and the conscious destruction of the will-to-power. 

He who is looking for the power-phantasies of the child will 
find them drawn with a master hand by Dostoevsky in his novel 
entitled A Raw Youth. I found them blatantly apparent in one of 
my patients. In the dreams and thoughts of this individual the fol- 
lowing wish recurred repeatedly: others should die so that he 
might have enough room in which to live, others should suffer 
privations so that he might obtain more favourable opportunities. 
This attitude reminds one of the inconsiderateness and heartless- 
ness of many men who trace all evil back to the fact that there are 
already too many people in the world; impulses that have un- 
questionably made the world-war more palatable. The feeling 
of certainty, in fictions of this kind, has been taken over in the 
above-mentioned case from the basic facts of capitalistic trade, 
where admittedly, the better the condition of one individual the 
worse that of another. "I want to be a grave-digger," said a four- 
year-old boy to me; "I want to be the person who digs graves foi 



Contributions to the Theory 
of the Anal Character* 

The wide field which is open to the science of psycho-analysis at 
the present time offers an abundance of instances of the rapid 
increase of psychological knowledge along the lines of purely 
inductive investigation. Perhaps the most remarkable and instruc- 
tive of these is the development of the theory of the anal charac- 
ter. In 1908, about fifteen years after the appearance of his first 
contributions to the psychology of the neuroses, Freud published 
a short paper entitled "Character and Anal Erotism." It occupied 
only three pages of a journal, and was a model of condensed state- 
ment and of cautious and clear summing up. The gradually in- 
creasing number of his co-workers, among whom may be men- 
tioned Sadger, Ferenczi, and Jones, has helped to extend the 
range of ascertained knowledge. The theory concerning the prod- 
ucts of the transformation of anal erotism gained unsuspected sig- 
nificance when in 1913, following on Jones' important investiga- 
tion on "Hate and Anal Erotism in the Obsessional Neurosis," 
Freud formulated an early "pregenital" organization of the libido. 
He considered that the symptoms of the obsessional neurosis were 
the result of a regression of libido to this stage of development, 
which is characterized by a preponderance of the anal and 
sadistic component instincts. This threw a new light both on the 
symptomatology of the obsessional neurosis and on the charac- 

* Reprinted from the Selected Papers of Karl Abraham, M.D. (Inter- 
national Psycho-Analytical Library, No. 13) by permission of The Hogarth 
Ftess Ltd., and Basic Books, Inc. 


Contributions to the Theory of the Anal Character 299 

terological peculiarities of the person suffering from it on the 
so-called "obsessional character." I might add, anticipating a fu- 
ture publication, that very similar anomalies of character are 
found in those people who tend to melancholic or manic states 
of mind. And the strictest possible study of the sadistic-anal char- 
acter-traits is necessary before we can proceed to investigate 
those last mentioned diseases which are still so enigmatical to us. 
The present study is mainly concerned with the anal contribu- 
tions to the formation of character. Jones' 1 last great work on this 
subject presents an abundance of valuable material, but it does 
not exhaust it. For the work of a single person cannot do justice 
to the multiplicity and complexity of the phenomena; each analyst 
who possesses data of his own should publish them, and so help 
to contribute to the body of psycho-analytical knowledge. In the 
same way the purpose of the following remarks is to extend the 
theory of the anal character-traits in certain directions. Another 
problem of great theoretical importance will be very frequently 
alluded to in this study. Up to the present we understand only 
very incompletely the particular psychological connections that 
exist between the two impulses of sadism and anal erotism which 
we always mention in close association with each other, almost 
as a matter of habit. And I shall attempt the solution of this 
question in a later paper. 

In his first description of the anal character Freud has said 
that certain neurotics present three particularly pronounced char- 
acter-traits, namely, a love of orderliness which often develops 
into pedantry, a parsimony which easily turns to miserliness, and 
an obstinacy which may become an angry defiance. He estab- 
lished the fact that the primary pleasure in emptying the bowels 
and in its products was particularly emphasized in these per- 
sons; and also that after successful repression their coprophilia 
either becomes sublimated into pleasure in painting, modelling, 
and similar activities, or proceeds along the path of reaction-for- 
mation to a special love of cleanliness. Finally he pointed out 
the unconscious equivalence of faeces and money or other valu- 
ables. Among other observations Sadger 2 has remarked that per- 

1 "Anal-erotic Character Traits" (1918). 
3 "Analerotik und Analcharakter" 

300 Karl Abraham 

sons with a pronounced anal character are usually convinced 
that they can do everything better than other people. He also 
speaks of a contradiction in their character, namely, great per- 
severance side by side with the tendency to put off doing every- 
thing till the last moment. 

I will pass over isolated remarks in psycho-analytic literature 
'by other authors and turn to Jones* very thorough and compre- 
hensive study on this subject. I might remark in advance that I 
<do not differ from this author on any points, but that nevertheless 
I feel that his statements need amplification and completion in 
certain respects. 

Jones quite rightly distinguishes two different acts in the 
process we usually designate as the education of the child in 
cleanly habits, The child has not only to be taught not to soil its 
body and surroundings with excreta, but it has also to be educated 
to perform its excretory functions at regular times. In other 
words, it has to give up both its coprophilia and its pleasure in 
the process of excretion. This double process of limitation of in- 
fantile impulses together with its consequences in the psychical 
sphere requires further investigation. 

The child's primitive method of evacuation brings the entire 

surface of its buttocks and lower extremities in contact with urine 

and faeces. This contact seems unpleasant, even repulsive } to 

adults, whose repressions have removed them from the infantile 

reaction to these processes. They cannot appreciate the sources of 

pleasure on which the libido of the infant can draw, in whom the 

-stream of warm urine on the skin and contact with the warm 

:mass of fasces produce pleasurable feelings. The child only begins 

:to give signs of discomfort when the excreted products grow cold 

against its body. It is the same pleasure which the child seeks 

when it handles its faeces at a somewhat later period. Ferenczi 3 

%as traced the further development of this infantile tendency. It 

vmust not be forgotten, moreover, that pleasure in the sight and 

ssmell of faeces is associated with these feelings. 

The special pleasure in the act of excretion, which we must 
differentiate from pleasure in the products of the excretory 
process, comprises besides physical sensations a psychical grati- 

4 "On the Ontogenesis ot an Interest in Money" (1916). 

Contributions to the Theory of the Anal Character 301 

fication which is based on the achievement of that act. Now in 
that the child's training demands strict regularity in its excretions 
as well as cleanliness it exposes the child's narcissism to a first 
severe test. The majority of children adapt themselves sooner 
or later to these demands. In favourable cases the child succeeds 
in making a virtue out of necessity, as it were; in other words, 
in identifying itself with the requirements of its educators and 
being proud of its attainment. The primary injury to its narcissism 
is thus compensated, and its original feeling of self-satisfaction is 
replaced by gratification in its achievement, in "being good," in 
its parents' praise. 

All children are not equally successful in this respect. Particu- 
lar attention should be drawn here to the fact that there are 
certain over-compensations behind which is hidden that obstinate 
holding fast to the primitive right of self-determination which 
occasionally breaks out violently later. I have in mind those 
children (and of course adults also) who are remarkable for 
their "goodness," polite manners, and obedience, but who base 
their underlying rebellious impulses on the grounds that they 
have been forced into submission since infancy. These cases have 
their own developmental history. In one of my patients I could 
trace back the course of events to her earliest infancy, in regard 
to which, it is true, previous statements of her mother were of 

The patient was the middle one of three sisters. She showed 
unusually clearly and completely the traits characteristic of a 
"middle" child, which Hug-Hellmuth 4 has recently described in 
such an illuminating way. But her refractoriness, which was 
associated in the clearest manner with her assertion of the in- 
fantile right of self-determination in the sense mentioned above, 
went back, in the last instance, to a particular circumstance of 
her childhood. 

When she was born her elder sister had been still under a 
year old. Her mother had not quite succeeded in educating the 
elder child to habits of cleanliness when the newcomer had 
imposed on her a double amount of washing, both of clothes 
and body. When the patient was a few months old her mother 
*"Vom 'mittlerern' Kinde" (1921). 

302 Karl Abraham 

had become pregnant for the third time, and had determined 
to hasten the education of her second child in cleanly habits, 
so that she should not still be too much taken up with her when 
the third child was born. She had demanded obedience on its 
part regarding the carrying out of its needs earlier than is usual, 
and had reinforced the effect of her words by smacking it. These 
measures had produced a very welcome result for the harassed 
mother. The child had become a model of cleanliness abnormally 
early, and had grown surprisingly submissive. When she was 
grown up, the patient was in a constant conflict between a con- 
scious attitude of submissiveness, resignation and willingness to 
sacrifice herself on the one hand, and an unconscious desire for 
vengeance on the other. 

This brief account illustrates in an instructive manner the 
effect of early injuries to infantile narcissism, especially if these 
injuries are of a persistent and systematic nature, and force a 
habit prematurely upon the child before it is psychically ready 
for it. This psychical preparedness only appears when the child 
begins to transfer on to objects (its mother, etc.) the feelings 
which are originally bound narcissistically. Once the child has 
acquired this capacity it will become cleanly "for the sake of* 
this person. If cleanliness is demanded too soon, it will acquire 
the habit through fear. Its inner resistance will remain and its 
libido will continue in a tenacious narcissistic fixation, and a 
permanent disturbance of the capacity to love will result. 

The full significance of such an experience for the psycho- 
sexual development of the child only becomes apparent if we 
examine in detail the course of narcissistic pleasure. Jones lays 
stress on the connection between the child's high self-esteem and 
its excretory acts. In a short paper 5 I have brought forward some 
examples to show that the child's idea of the omnipotence of its 
wishes and thoughts can proceed from a stage in which it as- 
cribed an omnipotence of this kind to its excretions. Further 
experience has since convinced me that this is a regular and 
typical process. The patient about whose childhood I have spoken 
had doubtless been disturbed in the enjoyment of a narcissistic 

5 "The Narcissistic Evaluation of Excretory Processes in Dreams and Neu- 
rosis" (1920). 

Contributions to the Theory of the Anal Character 303 

pleasure of this sort. The severe and painful feelings of in- 
sufficiency with which she was later afflicted very probably went 
back in the last instance to this premature destruction of her 
infantile "megalomania." 

This view of the excretions as a sign of enormous power is 
foreign to the consciousness of normal adults. That it persists 
in the unconscious, however, is shown in many everyday ex- 
pressions, mostly of a jocular nature; for example, the seat of 
the closet is often denoted as the "throne." It is not to be wondered 
at that children who grow up in a strong anal-erotic environment 
incorporate these kinds of comparisons which they so frequently 
hear, in the fixed body of their recollections and make use of 
them in their later neurotic phantasies. One of my patients had 
a compulsion to read a meaning of this kind into the Genpan 
national anthem. By transposing himself in his phantasies of 
greatness into the Kaiser's place he pictured to himself "the high 
delight" of "bathing in the glory of the throne," i.e. of touching 
his own excreta. 

Once again language gives us characteristic instances of this 
over-estimation of defsecation. In Spanish, the common ex- 
pression for it, "regir el vientre" ("to rule the belly"), which is 
used quite seriously, clearly indicates the pride taken by the 
person in the functioning of his bowels. 

If we recognize in the child's pride in evacuation a primitive 
feeling of power we can understand the peculiar feeling of 
helplessness we so often find in neurotically constipated patients. 
Their libido has been displaced from the genital to the anal 
zone, and they deplore the inhibition of the bowel function just 
as though it were a genital impotence. In thinking of the person 
who is hypochondriacal about his motions one is tempted to 
speak of an intestinal impotence. 

Closely connected with this pride is the idea of many neu- 
rotics, which was first described by Sadger, that they must do 
everything themselves because no one else can do it as wesL 
According to my experience this conviction is often exaggerated 
until the patient believes that he is a unique person. He will 
become pretentious and arrogant and will tend to under-estimate 
everyone else. One patient expressed this as follows: "Every- 

304 Karl Abraham 

thing that is not me is dirt." These neurotics only take pleasure 
in possessing a thing that no one else has, and will despise any 
activity which they have to share with other people. 

The sensitiveness of the person with an anal character to 
external encroachments of every kind on the actual or supposed 
field of his power is well known. It is quite evident that psycho- 
analysis must evoke the most violent resistance in such persons, 
who regard it as an unheard-of interference with their way of 
life. "Psycho-analysis pokes about in my affairs," one patient said, 
thereby indicating unconsciously his passive-homosexual and anal 
attitude towards his analyst. 

Jones emphasizes the fact that many neurotics of this class 
hold fast obstinately to their own system of doing things. They 
refuse altogether to accommodate themselves to any arrange- 
ment imposed from without, but expect compliance from other 
people as soon as they have worked out a definite arrangement 
of their own. As an example, I might mention the introduction 
of strict regulations for use in the office, or possibly the writing of 
a book which contains binding rules or recommendations for the 
organization of all offices of a certain kind. 

The following is a glaring example of this kind. A mother 
drew up a written programme in which she arranged her daugh- 
ter's day in the most minute manner. The orders for the early 
morning were set out as follows: (1) Get up. (2) Use the 
chamber. (3) Wash, etc. In the morning she would knock from 
time to time at her daughter's door, and ask, "How far have 
you got now?" The girl would then have to reply, "9" or "15," as 
the case might be. In this way the mother kept a strict watch over 
the execution of her plan. 

It might be mentioned here that all such systems not only 
testify to an obsession for order in its inventor, but also to his 
love of power which is of sadistic origin. I intend later to deal 
with the combination of anal and sadistic impulses in detail. 

Allusion may be made here to the pleasure these neurotics 
take in indexing and registering everything, in making up tabu- 
lar summaries, and in dealing with statistics of every kind. 

They furthermore show the same self-will in regard to any 
demand or request made to them by some other person. We are 

Contributions to the Theory of the Anal Character 305 

reminded of the conduct of those children who become con- 
stipated when defalcation is demanded of them, but afterwards 
yield to the need at a time that is agreeable to themselves. Such 
children rebel equally against the "shall" (being told to empty 
their bowels) as against the "must" (a child's expression for the 
need to defsecate); their desire to postpone evacuation is a pro- 
tection against both imperatives. 

The surrender of excrement is the earliest form in which the 
child "gives" or "presents" a thing; and the neurotic often shows 
the self-will we have described in the matter of giving. Accord- 
ingly in many cases he will refuse a demand or request made to 
him, but will of his own free choice make a person a handsome 
present. The important thing to him is to preserve his right of 
decision. We frequently find in our psycho-analyses that a 
husband opposes any expenditure proposed by his wife, while 
he afterwards hands her of his "own free will" more than whai 
she first asked for. These men delight in keeping their wives per- 
manently dependent on them financially. Assigning money in 
portions which they themselves determine is a source of pleasure 
to them. We come across similar behaviour in some neurotics 
regarding defaecation, which they only allow to take place in 
refracta dosi. One special tendency these men and women have 
is to distribute food in portions according as they think best, 
and this habit occasionally assumes grotesque forms. For in- 
stance, there was a case of a stingy old man who fed his goat 
by giving it each blade of grass separately. Such people like to 
arouse desire and expectation in others and then to give them 
gratification in small and insufficient amounts. 

In those instances where they have to yield to the demand 
of another person some of these neurotics endeavour to main- 
tain a semblance of making a personal decision. An example of 
this is the tendency to pay even the smallest amounts by cheque; 
in this way the person avoids using current notes and coin, but 
creates his "own money" in each case. The displeasure of pay- 
ing out is thereby diminished by just as much as it would be 
increased if payment were made in coin. I should like to make it 
quite clear, however, that other motives are also operative here. 

Neurotics who wish to introduce their own system into every- 

306 Karl Abraham 

thing are inclined to be exaggerated in their criticism of others, 
and this easily degenerates into mere carping. In social life they 
constitute the main body of malcontents. The original anal 
characteristic of self-will can, however, develop in two different 
directions, as Jones has convincingly shown. In some cases we 
meet with inaccessibility and stubbornness, that is, with charac- 
teristics that are unsocial and unproductive. In others we find 
perseverance and thoroughness, i.e. characteristics of social value 
as long as they are not pushed to extremes. We must here once 
more draw attention to the existence of other instinctual sources 
besides anal erotism which go to reinforce these tendencies. 

The opposite type has received very little consideration in 
psycho-analytical literature. There are certain neurotics who 
avoid taking any kind of initiative. In ordinary life they want 
a kind father or attentive mother to be constantly at hand to 
remove every difficulty out of their way, In psycho-analysis they 
resent having to give free associations. They would like to lie 
quite still and let the physician do all the analytical work, or to 
be questioned by him. The similarity of the facts disclosed by the 
analysis of these cases enables me to state that these patients 
used in childhood to resist the act of defalcation demanded of 
them, and that then they used to be spared this trouble by being 
given frequent enemas or purges by their mother or father. To 
them free association is a psychical evacuation, and just as 
with bodily evacuation they dislike being asked to perform 
it. They are continually expecting that the work should be made 
easier or done for them altogether. I may recall a reverse form 
of this resistance, which I have likewise traced back to anal 
erotic sources in an earlier paper. 6 It concerns those patients 
who wish to do everything themselves according to their own 
method in their psycho-analysis, and for this reason refuse to 
carry out the prescribed free association. 

In this paper I do not intend so much to discuss the neurotic 
symptom-formations arising from repressed anal erotism, as its 
characterological manifestations. I shall therefore only touch 

"The Narcissistic Evaluation of Excretory Processes in Dreams and Neu- 
rosis" (1920). 

Contributions to the Theory of the Anal Character 307 

upon the various forms of neurotic inhibition which obviously 
have to do with a displacement of libido to the anal zone. The 
fact that avoidance of effort is a frequent feature of the anal 
character needs further discussion; and we must briefly consider 
what the state of affairs is in the person with a so-called "obses- 
sional character." 

If the libido of the male person does not advance in full 
measure to the stage of genital organization, or if it regresses 
from the genital to the anal developmental phase, there invariably 
results a diminution of male activity in every sense of the word. 
His physiological productiveness is bound up with the genital 
zone. If his libido regresses to the sadistic-anal phase he loses 
his productive power, and not only in the purely generative 
sense. His genital libido should give the first impulse to the 
procreative act, and therewith to the creation of a new being. 
If the initiative necessary for this reproductive act is lacking, we 
invariably find a lack of productivity and initiative in other 
respects in his behaviour. But the effects go even beyond this. 

Together with the man's genital activity there goes a positive 
feeling-attitude towards his love-object, and this attitude extends 
to his behaviour towards other objects and is expressed in his 
capacity for social adaptation, his devotion to certain interests 
and ideas, etc. In all these respects the character-formation of 
the sadistic-anal stage is inferior to that of the genital phase. 
The sadistic element, which in a normal man's emotional life 
is of great importance once it has undergone appropriate trans- 
formation through sublimation, appears with particular strength 
in the obsessional character, but becomes more or less crippled 
in consequence of the ambivalence in the instinctual life of such 
persons. It also contains destructive tendencies hostile to the 
object, and on account of this cannot become sublimated to a 
real capacity for devotion to a love-object. For the reaction- 
formation of too great yieldingness and gentleness which is 
frequently observed in such people must not be confused with 
a real transference-love. Those cases in which object-love and 
genital libido-organization have been attained to a fair extent are 
more favourable. If the character-trait of over-kindness men- 

308 K ar l Abraham 

tioned above is combined with a partial object-love of this kind, 
a socially useful "variety" is produced, which in essential respects 
is, nevertheless, inferior to full object-love. 

In individuals with more or less impaired genitality we regu- 
larly find an unconscious tendency to regard the anal function 
as the productive activity, and to make it appear as if the genital 
activity were unessential and the anal one far more important. 
The social behaviour of these persons is accordingly strongly 
bound up with money. They like to make presents of money 
or its equivalent, and tend to become patrons of the arts or 
benefactors of some kind. But their libido remains more or less 
detached from objects, and so the work they do remains un- 
productive in the essential sense. They are by no means lacking 
in perseverance a frequent mark of the anal character but 
their perseverance is largely used in unproductive ways. They 
expend it, for instance, in the pedantic observance of fixed forms, 
so that in unfavourable cases their preoccupation with the 
external form outweighs their interest in the reality of the 
thing. In considering the various ways in which the anal char- 
acter impairs male activity we must not forget the tendency, 
often a very obstinate one, of postponing every action. We are 
well acquainted with the origin of this tendency. There is often 
associated with it a tendency to interrupt every activity that 
has been begun; so that in many cases as soon as a person begins 
doing anything it can already be predicted that an interruption 
will occur very soon. 

More rarely I have found the reverse conduct. For instance, 
one of my patients was prevented from writing his doctor's 
thesis through a long-standing resistance. After several motives 
for his resistance had come to light we found the following 
one: he declared that he shrank from beginning his work because 
when he had once begun he could not leave off again. We are 
reminded of the behaviour of certain neurotics in regard to 
their excretions. They retain the contents of the bowel or bladder, 
as long as they possibly can. When finally they yield to the 
need that has become too strong for them there is no further 
holding back, and they evacuate the entire contents. A fact to 
be particularly noted here is that there is a double pleasure, that 

Contributions to the Theory of the Anal Character 309 

of holding back the excreta, and that of evacuating it. The 
essential difference between the two forms of pleasure lies in the 
protracted nature of the process in the one case, and in its rapid 
course in the other. As regards the patient just mentioned the 
long-deferred beginning of the work signified a turning from 
pleasure in retention to pleasure in evacuation. 7 

A detail from the history of the same patient will show the 
degree to which a preponderance of anal over genital erotism 
makes the neurotic inactive and unproductive. During his analy- 
sis as well he remained wholly inactive for a long period, and 
by means of this resistance prevented any alteration taking place 
in his condition and circumstances. As is often the case in 
obsessional patients, his sole method of dealing with his external 
and internal difficulties was to swear violently. These expressions 
of affect were accompanied by very significant behaviour. In- 
stead of thinking about the success of his work, he used to 
ponder over the question of what would happen to his curses 
whether they reached God or the devil, and what was the 
fate of sound-waves in general. His intellectual activity was thus 
replaced by neurotic brooding. It appeared from his associations 
that the brooding question about the place where noise finally 
got to referred also to smell, and was in the last instance of 
anal erotic origin (flatus). 

Generally speaking, it may be said that the more male ac- 
tivity and productivity is hindered in neurotics, the more pro- 
nounced their interest in possession becomes, and this in a way 
which departs widely from the normal. In marked cases of 
anal character-formation almost all relationships in life are 
brought into the category of having (holding fast) and giving, 

7 The tendency to retain the faeces represents a special form of adherence 
to fore-pleasure, and seems to me to merit special consideration. I will only 
mention one point concerning it in this place. Recently frequent attempts 
have been made to set up two opposite "psychological types" and to bring all 
individuals into one or other category. We may recall in this connection 
Jung's "extroverted" and "introverted" types. The patient whom I mentioned 
above was undoubtedly turned in upon himself in the highest degree, bur &L 
gave up this attitude of hostility to objects more and more in the course of 
his analysis. This and many similar experiences go to prove that "introversion" 
in Jung's sense is an infantile clinging to the pleasure in retention. We are 
therefore dealing with an attitude that can be acquired or given up, and not 
with a manifestation of a rigid psychological type. 

310 Karl Abraham 

i.e. of proprietorship. It is as though the motto of many of these 
people were: "Whoever gives me something is my friend; who- 
ever desires something from me is my enemy." One patient said 
that he could not have any friendly feelings towards me during 
his treatment, and added in explanation: "So long as I have to 
pay anybody anything I cannot be friendly towards him." We 
find the exact reverse of this behaviour in other neurotics; their 
friendly feeling towards a person increases in proportion to the 
help he needs and asks for. 

In the first and larger group envy stands out clearly as the 
main character-trait. The envious person, however, shows not 
only a desire for the possessions of others, but connects with 
that desire spiteful impulses against the privileged proprietor. 
But we will only make a passing reference to the sadistic and 
anal roots of envy, since both are of minor and auxiliary signifi- 
cance in the production of that character-trait, which originates 
in the earlier, oral phase of libido-development. One example 
will suffice to illustrate the connection of envy with anal ideas 
of possession, and that is the frequent envy of his analyst on the 
part of the patient. He envies him the position of a "superior," 
and continually compares himself with him. A patient once said 
that the distribution of the roles in psycho-analysis was too un- 
just, for it was he who had to make all the sacrifices; he had 
to visit the physician, produce his associations, and to pay the 
money into the bargain. The same patient also had the habit 
of calculating the income of everyone he knew. 

We have now come very close to one of the classical traits 
of the person with an anal character, namely, his special atti- 
tude to money, which is usually one of parsimony or avarice. 
Often as this characteristic has been confirmed in psycho-analyti- 
cal literature, there are yet a number of features connected with 
it which have not received much notice, and which I shall there- 
fore proceed to deal with. 

There are cases in which the connection between intentional 
retention of faeces and systematic parsimony is perfectly clear. 
I may mention the example of a rich banker who again and again 
impressed on his children that they should retain the contents of 

Contributions to the Theory of the Anal Character 311 

the bowels as long as possible, in order to get the benefit of every 
bit of the expensive food they ate. 

Some neurotics limit their parsimony or their avarice to cer- 
tain kinds of expenditure, while in other respects they spend 
money with surprising liberality. There is a class of patient who 
avoids spending any money on "passing" things. A concert, a 
journey, a visit to an exhibition, involves expense and nothing 
permanent is got in return. I knew a person who avoided going to 
the opera for this reason; nevertheless he bought piano scores 
of the operas which he had not heard, because in this way he ob- 
tained something "lasting." Some of these neurotics avoid spend- 
ing money on food, because it is not retained as a permanent 
possession. It is significant that there is another type of patient 
who readily incurs expense for food in which he has an over- 
great interest. These are the neurotics who are always anxiously 
watching their bodies, testing their weight, etc. Their interest is 
concerned with the question of what remains of the material 
introduced into their body as a lasting possession. It is evident, 
that they identify the content of the body with money. 

In other cases we find that the neurotic carries his parsimony 
into every part of his life; and on certain points he goes to ex- 
tremes without effecting any appreciable economy. I might men- 
tion an eccentric miser who used to go about in his house with 
the front of his trousers unbuttoned, in order that the button- 
holes should not wear out too quickly. It is easy to guess that 
in this instance other impulses were also operative. Nevertheless 
it is characteristic that these could be concealed behind the anal 
erotic tendency to save money, and that this motive should 
be so much emphasized. In some patients we find a parsimony 
in the special instance of using toilet paper. In this a dislike 
of soiling a clean thing co-operates as a determining factor. 

The displacement of avarice from money or the value of 
money to time may be observed quite frequently. Time, it may 
be remembered, is likened to money in a familiar saying. Many 
neurotics are continually worrying over waste of time. It is 
only the time which they spend alone or at their work that seems 
to them well employed. Any disturbance in their work irritates 

312 Karl Abraham 

them exceedingly. They hate inactivity, pleasures, etc. These are 
the people who tend to exhibit the "Sunday neuroses" described 
by Ferenczi, 8 i.e. who cannot endure an interruption of their 
work. Just as every neurotically exaggerated purpose often fails 
to achieve its object, so is this the case here. The patients often 
save time on a small scale and waste it on a great one. 

Such patients frequently undertake two occupations at once 
hi order to save time. They like, for example, to learn, read, 
or accomplish other tasks during defascation. 9 I have repeatedly 
come across people who in order to save time used to put on or 
take off their coat and waistcoat together, or on going to bed 
would leave their pants in their trousers in order to put on both 
garments in one movement in the morning. Examples of this 
kind could easily be multiplied. 

The forms in which pleasure in possession can express itself 
are very numerous. The stamp-collector who deeply feels the 
gap in his set of stamps is not so far removed from the miser 
who, according to popular notion, counts and gloats over his 
gold pieces. But Jones' work concerning the impulse to collect 
is so informative that I can add nothing of importance to it. 

On the other hand, it seems to me necessary to make a brief 
allusion to a phenomenon which is closely related to the subject's 
pleasure in looking at his own possessions. I refer to the pleasure 
in looking at one's own mental creations, letters, manuscripts, 
etc., or completed works of all kinds. The prototype of this tend- 
ency is looking at one's own faeces, which is an ever-new source 
of pleasure to many people, and is in some neurotics a form of 
psychical compulsion. 

This fact of a libidinal over-emphasis of possession explains 
the difficulty our patients have in separating themselves from 
objects of all kinds, when these have neither practical use nor 
monetary value. Such people often collect all sorts of broken 
objects in the attics under the pretext that they might need them 
later. Then on some occasion or other they will get rid of the 

s "Sunday Neurosis" (1919). 

*For these neurotics the w.c. is the true place of "production/' to which 
its solitude is an assistance. One patient who showed violent resistance against 
giving free associations during the analytic hours produced them at home in 
the w.c., and brought them ready made to the analysis. 

Contributions to the Theory of the Anal Character 313 

whole lot of rubbish at once. Their pleasure in having a mass 
of material stored up entirely corresponds to pleasure in the 
retention of faeces. We find in this case that the removal 
(evacuation) of the material is delayed as long as possible. The 
same persons collect bits of paper, old envelopes, worn-out pens 
and similar things, and cannot get rid of these possessions for 
long periods of time, and then at rare intervals they make a 
general clearance, which is likewise associated with pleasure. 
Among business men and clerks I have sometimes come across 
a particular tendency to preserve carefully quite soiled and 
torn blotting-paper. In the unconscious of these neurotics the 
spots of ink are equivalent to the stain of faeces. I might mention 
that I knew a senile and weak-minded woman with a strong 
regression of libido to the anal stage who used to put the toilet 
paper she had used in her pocket and carry it about with her. 

The following peculiar habit of a woman who also exhibited 
unusually pronounced anal traits in other respects shows clearly 
that throwing away objects is equivalent in the unconscious to 
evacuating faeces. This woman was unable to throw away objects 
that had become useless. Nevertheless, she sometimes felt im- 
pelled to throw some object of this kind away, and so she had 
invented a method of tricking herself, as it were. She would go 
from her house into a neighbouring wood with the object to 
be removed perhaps some old clothes fixed to her back by 
one corner tucked under her apron-string. On her way through 
the wood she would "lose" it and return home another way so 
that she should not catch sight of the "lost" object. In order 
to give up possession of an object, therefore, she had to let it 
fall from the back part of her body. 

People who do not like to get rid of worn-out objects do 
not as a rule readily take to new ones. They buy new clothes, 
but do not wear them; they "keep" them for the future, and 
only take a real pleasure in them so long as they hang unused 
in the cupboard. 

The disinclination to throw away worn-out or worthless ob- 
jects frequently leads to a compulsive tendency to make use 
of even the most trifling thing. A rich man used to cut his 
empty match-boxes into small strips and give them to his servants 

314 Karl Abraham 

to light the fires with. A similar tendency appears in women in 
the period of involution. 

In many cases the person's interest in making use of rem- 
nants undergoes an incomplete kind of sublimation; as, for 
instance, when a neurotic has as his favourite day-dream the 
utilization of the refuse of a whole town, though no practical 
result of his reflections may appear. We shall deal later with 
day-dreams of this nature. 

We find a tendency to extravagance less frequent than parsi- 
mony in our patients. In an observation communicated to the 
Berlin Psycho-Analytical Society, Simmel made the parallel be- 
tween extravagance and neurotic diarrhoea just as evident as 
that between avarice and constipation, which has long been 
clear to us. I can confirm the correctness of his view from 
my own experience, and indeed I drew attention some years ago 
to the fact that spending money can represent an equivalent for 
a longed-for but neurotically inhibited release of libido. 10 I 
might mention here the inclination some women have to throw 
away money. It expresses hostility towards the husband, whose 
"means" n are taken from him in this way; it concerns, there- 
fore if we leave out other determinants an expression of 
the female castration complex in the sense of a revenge on the 
man. We see here again sadistic motives co-operating with 
those of anal-erotic origin. 

We can quite understand, from their contradictory attitude 
towards defalcation, the meanness many neurotics show in saving 
small sums of money while they will spend largely and generously 
from time to time. These persons postpone emptying the bowels 
as long as possible often giving lack of time as a reason and 
when they do go to the w.c. only evacuate a small quantity of 
faeces. But every now and then they have an evacuation on a 
grand scale. 

We occasionally come across persons with pronounced anal 
character whose libido has turned quite exclusively to the pos- 
session of money. A patient told me that as a boy he did not play 

10 "The Spending of Money in Anxiety States" (1917). 
n [The German word "Vermogen" = "means," "wealth"; also = "sexual 
capacity." Trans.] 

Contributions to the Theory of the Anal Character 315 

at battles with lead soldiers like other children, but with pieces of 
money. He got people to give him copper coins, and these repre- 
sented ordinary soldiers. Nickel ones were non-commissioned 
officers of various rank, and silver ones were officers. A silver 
five-mark piece was the field-marshal. This officer was secured 
from all attack in a special building "behind the front." One 
side took "prisoners" from the other in the battle and added them 
to its own army. In this manner one side increased its possession 
of money until the other had nothing left. It is quite obvious 
that the "struggle" in the patient's unconscious was against his 
"rich" father. It is worth noting, however, that money entirely 
replaced human beings. And indeed when this patient came to 
me for treatment he took no personal interest in other people 
whatever; only the possession of money and money values at- 
tracted him. 

The conduct of our patients with regard to order and clean- 
liness is just as contradictory as it is in spending money. Tsas 
fact is so familiar to every psycho-analyst that a general refer- 
ence to it should not be necessary; but certain particulars in this 
connection deserve special consideration. 

Pleasure in indexing and classifying, in compiling lists and 
statistical summaries, in drawing up programmes and regulating 
work by time-sheets, is well known to be an expression of the 
anal character. This tendency is so marked in many people that 
the fore-pleasure they get in working out a plan is stronger than 
their gratification in its execution, so that they often leave it 
undone. I have known a number of patients with a long-standing 
inhibition in their work who would draw up a plan of work, say, 
every Sunday for the coming week, and would then fail utterly 
to put it into practice. It is to be noted that they included not 
only undecided people but obstinate ones who in their self- 
opinionated way rejected the proved methods of others and 
wanted to act according to their own. 

Many neurotics remain during life in a particular attitude of 
ambivalency towards order and cleanliness. There are people who 
are very well groomed as far as their exterior goes. But whereas 
their visible costume and linen is irreproachable, their under- 
clothing and the covered parts of their body axe exceedingly 

316 Karl Abraham 

dirty. 12 These same people tend to preserve scrupulous order 
in their houses. On the writing table, for instance, every object 
will have its special place, and the books are placed with great 
care and regularity in the book-case where they are visible. In 
the drawers, however, complete disorder reigns, a disorder which 
is only corrected by a thorough clearance on rare occasions, and 
then only in a temporary way. 

I might mention here that in the unconscious of these neu- 
rotics a disordered room, disarranged drawers, etc., represent 
the bowel filled with faeces. I have repeatedly had occasion to 
analyse dreams which allude to the bowel in this way. One of 
my patients brought me a dream in which he climbed up a 
ladder after his mother in order to get into a lumber-room in 
the attics. It was an incest-dream with an anal coitus-phantasy 
in which the anus was represented symbolically as a narrow 
ladder and the bowel as a lumber-room. 

Character-traits connected with orderliness, as, for example, 
thoroughness and accuracy, are often closely associated with the 
opposite characteristic. These traits are particularly dealt with 
in Jones' investigations, and I need not go into them, but I may 
mention the craving for symmetry and "fairness" which is often 
represented in the anal character. 

Just as some neurotics count their steps in order to reach their 
destination with an even number of paces, so they tolerate no 
asymmetry in other matters. They anange all their objects sym- 
metrically. They divide everything with minute exactness. A 
husband will draw up calculations to show his wife that there 
is no equality between their respective expenditure on clothes, 
etc.; he will constantly be working out what the one has spent 
and what the other is therefore entitled to spend to make things 
even. During the food shortage in the Great War two unmarried 
brothers kept house together. When the rationed meat for both 
was put on the table they divided it by weighing each portion 
on a pair of letter scales. Both were anxious lest the other should 

13 There is a saying in Berlin regarding such people: Oen hui, unten pfuiJ 
["On top all spry, below, oh fie!"]. In Bavaria they say more coarsely, Oben 
beglissen \= "shining"], unten beschfssen [ = "beshat"]. The contradictions in 
some people in this respect is a matter, therefore, of common knowledge. 

Contributions to the Theory of the Anal Character 317 

go short or feel himself unfairly treated. The perpetual desire 
to be "quits" with other people, i.e. to be under no obligation, 
however trifling, is also significant. That other people with pro- 
nounced anal character have a tendency to forget their debts 
(particularly when they are for small sums) may be taken as 
a symptom of unsublimated anal erotism. 

Finally, a discovery of Jones must be discussed which he 
only mentions by the way, but which obviously is the con- 
densed result of wide experience. 

A most interesting result of anal erotism, he writes, "is the 
tendency to be occupied with the reverse side of various things 
and situations. This may manifest itself in many different ways; 
in marked curiosity about the opposite or back side of objects 
and places e.g. in the desire to live on the other side of a 
hill because it has its back turned to a given place; in the prone- 
ness to make numerous mistakes as to right and left, east and 
west; to reverse words and letters in writing; and so on." 

I could support Jones' view with numerous examples from 
my own experience. They are of far-reaching importance for 
understanding certain neurotic symptoms and character-traits. 
There is no doubt that the displacement of libido from the genital 
to the anal zone is the prototype -of all these "reversals." In this 
connection the conduct of many people who are considered 
eccentric may be mentioned. Their nature is built up for the 
most part on anal character-traits. They tend to act in great 
and small things in a manner opposite to that of other people. 
They wear clothes that are as dissimilar as possible from the 
prevailing fashion. They work when others play. If they do 
work at which others sit, they stand. When others ride, they 
go on foot; or run while others walk. If people wear warm cloth- 
ing, they do the opposite. The food they enjoy is opposed to 
the general taste. The connection between this and the familiar 
character-trait of obstinacy is unmistakable. 

During my student days I knew a young man who was notice- 
able for his peculiar habits. He lived unsocially, resisted the 
fashion of the time in an ostentatious manner, and would not 
conform to the customs of the rest of the students. As I was 
having a mid-day meal with him one day in a restaurant I noticed 

318 Karl Abraham 

that he took the menu in the reverse order, i.e. he commenced 
with the sweet and ended with the soup. Some years later I was 
asked by his relatives to see him professionally. I found that 
he had already developed definite paranoic delusions. If we bear 
in mind the great significance of anal erotism in the psycho- 
genesis of paranoia, a significance which Ferenczi has pointed 
out, we can understand this man's eccentric behaviour as an 
anal character-formation, and therefore as a precursor of par- 

Certain cases of neuroses in women, in which an unusually 
strong castration complex is expressed, reveal to us best the 
deeper meaning of such a tendency to reversal. We find in them 
that it springs from two main motives a displacement of libido 
from "in front" to "behind," and the wish for a change of sex. 
I hope to have something to say concerning this condition of 
mind in another connection. 

I should like to conclude these remarks on anal character- 
traits with an observation the truth of which I should like others 
to test. This is that the anal character sometimes seems to stamp 
itself on the physiognomy of its possessor. It seems particularly 
to show itself in a morose expression. Persons who are deprived 
of normal genital gratification tend to surliness 13 as a rule. A 
constant tension of the line of the nostril together with a slight 
lifting of the upper lip seem to me significant facial characteristics 
of such people. In some cases this gives the impression that they 
are constantly sniffing at something. Probably this feature is 
traceable to their coprophilic pleasure in smell. In the case of 
a man who had this kind of facial expression 1 once remarked 
that he looked as though he were constantly smelling himself. 
Someone who knew him quite well said that he really did have 
the habit of smelling his hands and every object he picked up. 
I might add that he exhibited the typical anal character-traits in 
a pronounced form. 

I do not claim to have dealt exhaustively with the subject 
of anal character-traits in this paper. On the contrary, I am 
conscious how little justice I have done to the richness and 

13 Some, it is true, have at their command plentiful narcissistic sources of 
pleasure, and live in a state of smiling self-satisfaction. 

Contributions to the Theory of the Anal Character 319 

variety of the material. In reality I have had in view another 
object, namely, to increase our knowledge of the pregenital phases 
of the development of the libido by making some additions to 
the investigation of the anal character. As I have said at the 
beginning, this paper is intended to be followed by a study of 
the manic-depressive states, for the understanding of which a 
knowledge of the pregenital stages of development is essential, 



Selfishness, Self-Love, and 

Thou shall love thy neighbour as thyself. 


Modern culture is pervaded by a tabu on selfishness. We ar4 
taught that to be selfish is sinful and that to love others is virtu- 
ous. To be sure, this doctrine is in flagrant contradiction to the 
practice of modem society, which holds the doctrine that the 
most powerful and legitimate drive in man is selfishness and that 
by following this imperative drive the individual makes his best 
contribution to the common good. But the doctrine which de- 
clares selfishness to be the arch evil and love for others to be 
the greatest virtue is still powerful. Selfishness is used here 
almost synonymously with self-love. The alternative is to love 
others, which is a virtue, or to love oneself, which is a sin. 

This principle has found its classic expression in Calvin's the- 
ology, according to which man is essentially evil and powerless. 
Man can achieve absolutely nothing that is good on the basis of 
his own strength or merit. "We are not our own," says Calvin. 
"Therefore neither our reason nor our will should predominate 
in our deliberations and actions. We are not our own; therefore 
let us not propose it as our end to seek what may be expedient 
for us according to the flesh. We are not our own; therefore, let 

* From Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics, by 
Erich Fromm. Copyright 1947 by Erich Fromm, reprinted by permission of 
Rinehart & Co., Inc. and Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. 


Selfishness, Self -Love, ana Self -Interest 321 

us, as far as possible, forget ourselves and all things that are ours. 
On the contrary, we are God's; for Him, therefore, let us live and 
die. For, as it is the most devastating pestilence which rums 
people if they obey themselves, it is the only haven of salvation 
not to know or to want anything by oneself but to be guided by 
God Who walks before us." 1 Man should have not only the 
conviction of his absolute nothingness but he should do every- 
thing to humiliate himself. "For I do not call it humility if you 
suppose that we have anything left .... we cannot think of our- 
selves as we ought to think without utterly despising everything 
that may be supposed an excellence in us. This humility is un- 
feigned submission of a mind overwhelmed with a weighty sense 
of its own misery and poverty; for such is the uniform descrip- 
tion of it in the word of God." 2 

This emphasis on the nothingness and wickedness of the indi- 
vidual implies that there is nothing he should like and respect 
about himself. The doctrine is rooted in self-contempt and self- 
hatred. Calvin makes this point very clear: he speaks of self-love 
as "a pest." 3 If the individual finds something "on the strength 
of which he finds pleasure in himself," he betrays this sinful 
self-love. This fondness for himself will make him sit in judgment 
over others and despise them. Therefore, to be fond of oneself 
or to like anything in oneself is one of the greatest sins. It is 
supposed to exclude love for others 4 and to be identical with 
selfishness. 5 

The view of man held by Calvin and Luther has been of 

1 Johannes Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans, by John Allen 
(Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Christian Education, 1928), in particular 
Book III, Chap. 7, p. 619. From "For, as it is ... ." the translation is 
mine from the Latin original (Johannes Calvini, Insiitutio Christianae 
Religionis. Editionem curavit, A. Tholuk, Berolini, 1935, par. I, p. 445). 

3 Ibid., Chap. 12, par. 6, p. 681. 
Ibid., Chap. 7, par. 4, p. 622. 

4 It should be noted, however, that even love for one's neighbor, while it is 
one of the fundamental doctrines of the New Testament, has not been given 
a corresponding weight by Calvin. In blatant contradiction to the New Testa- 
ment, Calvin says: "For what the schoolmen advance concerning the priority 
of charity to faith and hope, is a mere reverie of a distempered imagination 
. . . ." Chap. 24, par. 1, p. 531. 

5 Despite Luther's emphasis on the spiritual freedom of the individual, his 
theology, different as it is in many ways from Calvin's, is pervaded by the 
same conviction of man's basic powerlessness and nothingness. 

322 Erich Fromrn 

tremendous influence on the development of modern Western 
society. They laid the foundations for an attitude in which man's 
own happiness was not considered to be the aim of life but 
where he became a means, an adjunct, to ends beyond him, of 
an all-powerful God, or of the not less powerful secularized 
authorities and norms, the state, business, success. Kant, who, 
with regard to the idea that man should be an end in himself and 
never a means only, was perhaps the most influential ethical 
thinker of the Enlightenment period, nevertheless had the same 
condemnation for self-love. According to him, it is a virtue to 
want happiness for others, but to want one's own happiness is 
ethically indifferent, since it is something for which the nature of 
man is striving, and since a natural striving cannot have a posi- 
tive ethical value. 6 Kant admits that one must not give up one's 
claims to happiness; under certain circumstances it may even be 
a duty to be concerned with it, partly because health, wealth, 
and the like may be means necessary for the fulfillment of one's 
duty, partly because the lack of happiness poverty can prevent 
one from fulfilling his duty. 7 But love for oneself, striving for 
one's own happiness, can never be a virtue. As an ethical princi- 
ple, the striving for one's own happiness "is the most objection- 
able one, not merely because it is false .... but because the 
springs it provides for morality are such as rather to undermine 
it and destroy its sublimity . . . ." 8 

Kant differentiates egotism, self-love, philautia a benevo- 
lence for oneself and arrogance, the pleasure in oneself. But 
even "rational self-love" must be restricted by ethical principles, 
the pleasure in oneself must be battered down, and the individual 
must come to feel humiliated in comparing himself with the 
sanctity of moral laws. 9 The individual should find supreme hap- 
piness in the fulfillment of his duty. The realization of the moral 
principle and, therefore, of the individual's happiness is only 

6 Compare Immanuel Kant, Kant's Critique of Practical Reason and Other 
WbrJcs on the Theory of Ethics, trans, by Thomas Kingsmill Abbott (New 
York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1909), Part I, Book I, Chap. I, par. VIII, 
Remark II, p. 126. 

7 Ibid, in particular Part I, Book I, Chap. Ill, p. 186. 

s Loc. cit., Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals; second 
section, p. 61. 

8 Loc. cit., Part I, Book I, Ch. Ill, p. 165. 

Selfishness, Self -Love, and Self -Interest 323 

possible in the general whole, the nation, the state. But "the 
welfare of the state" and salus rei publicae suprema lex est 
is not identical with the welfare of the citizens and their happi- 
ness. 10 

In spite of the fact that Kant shows a greater respect for the 
integrity of the individual than did Calvin or Luther, he denies 
the individual's right to rebel even under the most tyrannical 
government; the rebel must be punished with no less than death 
if he threatens the sovereign. 11 Kant emphasizes the native pro- 
pensity for evil in the nature of man, 12 for the suppression of 
which the moral law, the categorical imperative, is essential lest 
man should become a beast and human society end in wild 

In the philosophy of the Enlightenment period the individual's 
claims to happiness have been emphasized much more strongly 
by others than by Kant, for instance, by Helvetius. This trend in 
modern philosophy has found its most radical expression in 
Stirner and Nietzsche. 13 But while they take the opposite position 
to that of Calvin and Kant with regard to the value of selfishness, 
they agree with them in the assumption that love for others and 
love for oneself are alternatives. They denounce love for others 
as weakness and self-sacrifice and postulate egotism, selfishness, 
and self-love they too confuse the issue by not clearly differen- 
tiating between these last as virtue. Thus Stirner says: "Here, 
egoism, selfishness must decide, not the principle of love, not 
love motives like mercy, gentleness, good-nature, or even justice 
and equity for iustitia too is a phenomenon of love, a product 
of love; love knows only sacrifice and demands self-sacrifice." 14 

10 Immanuel Kant, Immanuel Kant's 1 WerJce (Berlin: Cassierer), in particu- 
lar "Der Rechtslehre Zweiter Tefl" I. Abschnitt, par. 49, p. 124. I translate 
from the German text, since this part is omitted in the English translation of 
The Metaphysics of Ethics by I. W. Semple (Edinburgh: 1871). 

11 Ibid., p. 126. 

33 Compare Immanuel Kant, Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, 
trans, by T. M. Greene and H. H. Hudson (Chicago: Open Court, 1934), 
Book I. 

13 In order not to make this chapter too long I discuss only the modern 
philosophical development. The student of philosophy will know that Aristotle's 
and Spinoza's ethics consider self-love a virtue, not a vice, in striking contrast 
to Calvin's standpoint. 

14 Max Stirner, The Ego and His Own, trans, by S. T. Byington (London: 
A. C. Fifield, 1912), p. 339, 

324 Erich Fromm 

The kind of love denounced by Stirner is the masochistic 
dependence by which the individual makes himself a means for 
achieving the purposes of somebody or something outside him- 
self. Opposing this concept of love, he did not avoid a formula- 
tion, which, highly polemical, overstates the point. The positive 
principle with which Stirner was concerned 15 was opposed to an 
attitude which had been that of Christian theology for centuries 
and which was vivid in the German idealism prevalent in his 
time; namely, to bend the individual so that he submits to, and 
finds his center in, a power and a principle outside himself. 
Stirner was not a philosopher of the stature of Kant or Hegel, 
but he had the courage to rebel radically against that side of 
idealistic philosophy which negated the concrete individual and 
thus helped the absolute state to retain its oppressive power over 

In spite of many differences between Nietzsche and Stirner, 
their ideas in this respect are very much the same. Nietzsche too 
denounces love and altruism as expressions of weakness and self- 
negation. For Nietzsche, the quest for love is typical of slaves 
unable to fight for what they want and who therefore try to get 
it through love. Altruism and love for mankind thus have be- 
come a sign of degeneration. 16 For Nietzsche it is the essence of 
a good and healthy aristocracy that it is ready to sacrifice count- 
less people for its interests without having a guilty conscience. 
Society should be a "foundation and scaffolding by means of 
which a select class of beings may be able to elevate themselves 
to their higher duties, and in general to a higher existence." 17 

15 One of his positive formulations, for example, is: "But how does one use 
life? In using it up like the candle one burns. . . . Enjoyment of life is using 
life up." F. Engels has clearly seen the one-sidedness of Stirner's formulations 
and has attempted to overcome the false alternative between love for oneself 
and love for others. In a letter to Marx in which he discusses Stirner's book, 
Engels writes: "If, however, the concrete and real individual is the true basis 
for our 'human' man, it is self-evident that egotism of course not only 
Stirner's egotism ot reason, but also the egotism of the heart is the basis for 
our love of man." Marx-Engels Gesamrausgabe (Berlin: Marx-Engels Verlag, 
1929), p. 6. 

16 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, trans, by Anthony M. Ludovici 
(Edinburgh and London: T. N. Foulis, 1910), stanzas 246, 326, 369, 373, 
and 728. 

17 Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, trans, by Helen Zimmer 
(New York: The Macmillan Company, 1907), stanza 258. 

Selfishness, Self-Love, and Self-Interest 325 

Many quotations could be added to document this spirit of con- 
tempt and egotism. These ideas have often been understood as 
the philosophy of Nietzsche. However, they do not represent the 
true core of his philosophy. 18 

There are various reasons why Nietzsche expressed himself 
in the sense noted above. First of all, as with Stirner, his philoso- 
phy is a reaction a rebellion against the philosophical tradition 
of subordinating the empirical individual to powers and principles 
outside himself. His tendency to overstatement shows this reac- 
tive quality. Second, there were, in Nietzsche's personality, feel- 
ings of insecurity and anxiety that made him emphasize the 
"strong man" as a reaction formation. Finally, Nietzsche was 
impressed by the theory of evolution and its emphasis on the 
"survival of the fittest." This interpretation does not alter the 
fact that Nietzsche believed that there is a contradiction between 
love for others and love for oneself; yet his views contain the 
nucleus from which this false dichotomy can be overcome. The 
"love" which he attacks is rooted not in one's own strength, but 
in one's own weakness. "Your neighbor-love is your bad love of 
yourselves. Ye flee unto your neighbor from yourselves and 
would fain make a virtue thereof! But I fathom your 'unselfish- 
ness.' " He states explicitly, "You cannot stand yourselves and 
you do not love yourselves sufficiently." 19 For Nietzsche the 
individual has "an enormously great significance." 20 The "strong" 
individual is the one who has "true kindness, nobility, greatness 
of soul, which does not give in order to take, which does not 
want to excel by being kind; 'waste' as type of true kindness, 
wealth of the person as a premise." 21 He expresses the same 
thought also in Thus Spake Zarathustra: "The one goeth to his 
neighbor because he seeketh himself, and the other because he 
would fain lose himself." 22 

The essence of this view is this: Love is a phenomenon of 

18 C. G. A. Morgan, What Nietzsche Means (Cambridge: Harvard Uni- 
versity Press, 1943). 

^Friedricn Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, trans, by Thomas Common 
(New York: Modern Library), p. 75. 
' The Will to Power, stanza 785. 

21 Ibid, stanza 935. 

23 Thes Spalce Zarathustra, p. 76. 

326 Erich Fro mm 

abundance; its premise is the strength of the individual who can 
give. Love is affirmation and productiveness, "It seeketh to create 
what is loved!" 2S To love another person is only a virtue if it 
springs from this inner strength, but it is a vice if it is the expres- 
sion of the basic inability to be oneself. 24 However, the fact 
remains that Nietzsche left the problem of the relationship be- 
tween self-love and love for others as an unsolved antinomy. 

The doctrine that selfishness is the arch-evil and that to love 
oneself excludes loving others is by no means restricted to the- 
ology and philosophy, but it became one of the stock ideas 
promulgated in home, school, motion pictures, books; indeed 
in all instruments of social suggestion as well. "Don't be selfish" 
is a sentence which has been impressed upon millions of children, 
generation after generation. Its meaning is somewhat vague. 
Most people would say that it means not to be egotistical, incon- 
siderate, without any concern for others. Actually, it generally 
means more than that. Not to be selfish implies not to do what 
one wishes, to give up one's own wishes for the sake of those in 
authority. "Don't be selfish," in the last analysis, has the same 
ambiguity that it has in Calvinism. Aside from its obvious impli- 
cation, it means, "don't love yourself," "don't be yourself," but 
submit yourself to something more important than yourself, to 
an outside power or its internalization, "duty." "Don't be selfish" 
becomes one of the most powerful ideological tools in suppressing 
spontaneity and the free development of personality. Under the 
pressure of this slogan one is asked for every sacrifice and for 
complete submission: only those acts are "unselfish" which do 
not serve the individual but somebody or something outside him- 

This picture, we must repeat, is hi a certain sense one-sided. 
For besides the doctrine that one should not be selfish, the op- 
posite is also propagandized in modern society: keep your own 
advantage in mind, act according to what is best for you; by so 
doing you will also be acting for the greatest advantage of all 

28 Ibid, p. 102. 

24 See Friedrlch Nietzsche, The Twilight of Idols, trans, by A. M. Ludovici 
(Edinburgh: T. N. Foulis, 1911), stanza 35; Ecce Homo, trans, by A. M. 
Ludovici (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1911), stanza 2; Nachlass. 
Nietzsches Wei'ke (Leipzig: A. Kroener), pp. 63-64. 

Selfishness, Self -Love, and Self -Interest 327 

others. As a matter of fact, the idea that egotism is the basis of 
the general welfare is the principle on which competitive society 
has been built. It is puzzling that two such seemingly contradic- 
tory principles could be taught side by side in one culture; of the 
fact, however, there is no doubt. One result of this contradiction 
is confusion in the individual. Torn between the two doctrines, 
he is seriously blocked in the process of integrating his person- 
ality. This confusion is one of the most significant sources of the 
bewilderment and helplessness of modern man. 25 

The doctrine that love for oneself is identical with "self- 
ishness" and an alternative to love for others has pervaded the- 
ology, philosophy, and popular thought; the same doctrine has 
been rationalized in scientific language in Freud's theory of 
narcissism. Freud's concept presupposes a fixed amount of libido. 
In the infant, all of the libido has the child's own person as its 
objective, the stage of "primary narcissism," as Freud calls it. 
During the individual's development, the libido is shifted from 
one's own person toward other objects. If a person is blocked in 
his "object-relationships," the libido is withdrawn from the ob- 
jects and returned to his own person; this is called "secondary 
narcissism." According to Freud, the more love I turn toward the 
outside world the less love is left for myself, and vice versa. He 
thus describes the phenomenon of love as an impoverishment of 
one's self-love because all libido is turned to an object outside 

These questions arise: Does psychological observation support 
the thesis that there is a basic contradiction and a state of alter- 
nation between love for oneself and love for others? Is love for 
oneself the same phenomenon as selfishness, or are they oppo- 
sites? Furthermore, is the selfishness of modern man really a 
concern for himself as an individual, with all his intellectual, 
emotional, and sensual potentialities? Has "he" not become an 
appendage of his socioeconomic role? Is his selfishness identical 
with self-love or is it not caused by the very lack of it? 

35 This point has been emphasized by Karen Homey, The Neurotic Person- 
ality of Our Time (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1937), and by 
Robert S. Lynd, Knowledge for What? (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 

328 Erich Fromm 

Before we start the discussion of the psychological aspect of 
selfishness and self-love, the logical fallacy in the notion that 
love for others and love for oneself are mutually exclusive should 
be stressed. If it is a virtue to love my neighbor as a human 
being, it must be a virtue and not a vice to love myself since 
I am a human being too. There is no concept of man in which 
I myself am not included. A doctrine which proclaims such an 
exclusion proves itself to be intrinsically contradictory. The idea 
expressed in the Biblical "Love thy neighbor as thyself!" implies 
that respect for one's own integrity and uniqueness, love for and 
understanding of one's own self, can not be separated from re- 
spect for and love and understanding of another individual. The 
love for my own self is inseparably connected with the love for 
any other self. 

We have come now to the basic psychological premises on 
which the conclusions of our argument are built. Generally, these 
premises are as follows: dot only others, but we ourselves are 
the "object" of our feelings and attitudes; the attitudes toward 
others and toward ourselves, far from being contradictory, are 
basically conjunctive. With regard to the problem under discus- 
sion this means: Love of others and love of ourselves are not al- 
ternatives. On the contrary, an attitude of love toward themselves 
will be found in all those who are capable of loving others. Love, 
in principle, is indivisible as far as the connection between "ob- 
jects" and one's own self is concerned. Genuine love is an expres- 
sion of productiveness and implies care, respect, responsibility, 
and knowledge. It is not an "affect" in the sense of being affected 
by somebody, but an active striving for the growth and happiness 
of the loved person, rooted in one's own capacity to love. 

To love is an expression of one's power to love, and to love 
somebody is the actualization and concentration of this power 
with regard to one person. It is not true, as the idea of romantic 
love would have it, that there is only the one person in the world 
whom one could love and that it is the great chance of one's 
life to find that one person. Nor is it true, if that person be found 
that love for him (or her) results in a withdrawal of love from 
ethers. Love which can only be experienced with regard to one 
person demonstrates by this very fact that it is not love, but a 

Selfishness, Self-Love, and Self-Interest 329 

symbiotic attachment. The basic affirmation contained in love 
is directed toward the beloved person as an incarnation of 
essentially human qualities. Love of one person implies love of man 
as such. The kind of "division of labor" as William James calls 
it, by which one loves one's family but is without feeling for 
the "stranger," is a sign of a basic inability to love. Love of man 
is not, as is frequently supposed, an abstraction coming after 
the love for a specific person, but it is its premise, although, 
genetically, it is acquired in loving specific individuals. 

From this it follows that my own self, in principle, must be 
as much an object of my love as another person. The affirmation 
of one's own life, happiness, growth, freedom, is rooted in one's 
capacity to love, Le., in care, respect, responsibility, and knowl- 
edge. If an individual is able to love productively, he loves him- 
self too; if he can love only others, he can not love at all. 

Granted that love for oneself and for others in principle is 
conjunctive, how do we explain selfishness, which obviously 
excludes any genuine concern for others? The selfish person is 
interested only in himself, wants everything for himself, feels 
no pleasure in giving, but only in taking. The world outside is 
looked at only from the standpoint of what he can get out of it; 
he lacks interest in the needs of others, and respect for their 
dignity and integrity. He can see nothing but himself; he judges 
everyone and everything from its usefulness to him; he is basically 
unable to love. Does not this prove that concern for others and 
concern for oneself are unavoidable alternatives? This would be 
so if selfishness and self-love were identical. But that assumption 
is the very fallacy which has led to so many mistaken conclusions 
concerning our problem. Selfishness and self-love, far from being 
identical, are actually opposites. The selfish person does not love 
himself too much but too little; in fact he hates himself. This lack 
of fondness and care for himself, which is only one expression of 
his lack of productiveness, leaves him empty and frustrated. He 
is necessarily unhappy and anxiously concerned to snatch from 
life the satisfactions which he blocks himself from attaining. He 
seems to care too much for himself but actually he only makes 
an unsuccessful attempt to cover up and compensate for his 
failure to care for his real self. Freud holds that the selfish person 

330 Erich Fromm 

is narcissistic, as if he had withdrawn his love from others and 
turned it toward his own person. It is true that selfish persons are 
incapable of loving others, but they are not capable of loving 
themselves either. 

It is easier to understand selfishness by comparing it with 
greedy concern for others, as we find it, for instance, in an over- 
solicitous, dominating mother. While she consciously believes 
that she is particularly fond of her child, she has actually a deeply 
repressed hostility toward the object of her concern. She is 
overconcerned not because she loves the child too much, but 
because she has to compensate for her lack of capacity to love 
him at all. 

This theory of the nature of selfishness is borne out by psycho- 
analytic experience with neurotic "unselfishness," a symptom of 
neurosis observed in not a few people who usually are troubled 
not by this symptom but by others connected with it, like de- 
pression, tiredness, inability to work, failure in love relationships, 
and so on. Not only is unselfishness not felt as a "symptom"; it 
is often the one redeeming character trait on which such people 
pride themselves. The "unselfish" person "does not want any- 
thing for himself"; he "lives only for others," is proud that he 
does not consider himself important. He is puzzled to find that 
in spite of his unselfishness he is unhappy, and that his relation- 
ships to those closest to him are unsatisfactory. He wants to have 
what he considers are his symptoms removed but not his un- 
selfishness. Analytic work shows that his unselfishness is not 
something apart from his other symptoms but one of them; in 
fact often the most important one; that he is paralyzed in his 
capacity to love or to enjoy anything; that he is pervaded by 
hostility against life and that behind the fagade of unselfishness 
a subtle but not less intense self-centeredness is hidden. This 
person can be cured only if his unselfishness too is interpreted 
as a symptom along with the others so that his lack of produc- 
tiveness, which is at the root of both his unselfishness and his 
other troubles, can be corrected. 

The nature of unselfishness becomes particularly apparent 
in its effect on others and most frequently, in our culture, in the 
effect the "unselfish" mother has on her children. She believes 

Selfishness, Self-Love, and Self-Interest 331 

that by her unselfishness her children will experience what it 
means to be loved and to learn, in turn, what it means to love. 
The effect of her unselfishness, however, does not at all corre- 
spond to her expectations. The children do not show the happiness 
of persons who are convinced that they are loved; they are anx- 
ious, tense, afraid of the mother's disapproval and anxious to 
live up to her expectations. Usually, they are affected by their 
mother's hidden hostility against life, which they sense rather 
than recognize, and eventually become imbued with it themselves. 
Altogether, the effect of the "unselfish" mother is not too differ- 
ent from that of the selfish one; indeed, it is often worse because 
the mother's unselfishness prevents the children from criticizing 
her. They are put under the obligation not to disappoint her; 
they are taught, under the mask of virtue, dislike for life. If one 
has a chance to study the effect of a mother with genuine self- 
love, one can see that there is nothing more conducive to giving 
a child the experience of what love, joy, and happiness are than 
being loved by a mother who loves herself. 

Having analyzed selfishness and self-love we can now proceed 
to discuss the concept of self-interest, which has become one of 
the key symbols in modern society. It is even more ambiguous 
than selfishness or self-love, and this ambiguity can be fully 
understood only by taking into account the historical develop- 
ment of the concept of self-interest. The problem is what is 
considered to constitute self-interest and how it can be deter- 

There are two fundamentally different approaches to this 
problem. One is the objectivistic approach most clearly formu- 
lated by Spinoza. To him self-interest or the interest "to seek one's 
profit*' is identical with virtue. "The more," he says, "each person 
strives and is able to seek his profit, that is to say, to preserve Ms 
being, the more virtue does he possess; on the other hand, in so 
far as each person neglects his own profit he is impotent." 26 
According to this view, the interest of man is to preserve his 
existence, which is the same as realizing his inherent potentiali- 
ties. This concept of self-interest is objectivistic inasmuch as 
"interest" is not conceived in terms of the subjective feeling of 

> Spinoza, Ethics, IV, Prop. 20. 

332 Erich Fromm 

what one's interest is but in terms of what the nature of man is, 
objectively. Man has only one real interest and that is the full 
development of Ms potentialities, of himself as a human being. 
Just as one has to know another person and his real needs in 
order to love him, one has to know one's own self in order to 
understand what the interests of this self are and how they can 
be served. It follows that man can deceive himself about his real 
self-interest if he is ignorant of his self and its real needs and 
that the science of man is the basis for determining what con- 
stitutes man's self-interest. 

In the last three hundred years the concept of self-interest has 
increasingly been narrowed until it has assumed almost the op- 
posite meaning which it has in Spinoza's thinking. It has become 
identical with selfishness, with interest in material gains, power, 
and success; and instead of its being synonymous with virtue, its 
conquest has become an ethical commandment. 

This deterioration was made possible by the change from the 
objectivistic into the erroneously subjectivistic approach to self- 
interest. Self-interest was no longer to be determined by the na- 
ture of man and his needs; correspondingly, the notion that one 
could be mistaken about it was relinquished and replaced by the 
idea that what a person felt represented the interest of his self 
was necessarily his true self-interest. 

The modern concept of self-interest is a strange blend of two 
contradictory concepts: that of Calvin and Luther on the one 
hand, and on the other, that of the progressive thinkers since 
Spinoza. Calvin and Luther had taught that man must suppress 
Ms self-interest and consider himself only an instrument for God's 
purposes. Progressive thinkers, on the contrary, have taught that 
man ought to be only an end for himself and not a means for 
any purpose transcending him. What happened was that man has 
accepted the contents of the Calvinistic doctrine while rejecting 
its religious formulation. He has made himself an instrument, 
not of God's will but of the economic macMne or the state. He 
has accepted the role of a tool, not for God but for industrial 
progress; he has worked and amassed money but essentially not 
for the pleasure of spending it and of enjoying life but in order 
to save, to invest, to be successful. Monastic asceticism has been. 

Selfishness, Self -Love, and Self -Interest 333 

as Max Weber has pointed out, replaced by an inner-worldly 
asceticism where personal happiness and enjoyment are no longer 
the real aims of life. But this attitude was increasingly divorced 
from the one expressed in Calvin's concept and blended with 
that expressed in the progressive concept of self-interest, which 
taught that man had the right and the obligation to make the 
pursuit of his self-interest the supreme norm of life. The result 
is that modern man lives according to the principles of self-denial 
and thinks in terms of self-interest. He believes that he is acting 
in behalf of his interest when actually his paramount concern is 
money and success; he deceives himself about the fact that his 
most important human potentialities remain unfulfilled and that 
he loses himself in the process of seeking what is supposed to be 
best for him. 

The deterioration of the meaning of the concept of self-interest 
is closely related to the change in the concept of self. In the 
Middle Ages man felt himself to be an intrinsic part of the social 
and religious community in reference to which he conceived his 
own self when he as an individual had not yet fully emerged 
from his group. Since the beginning of the modern era, when 
man as an individual was faced with the task of experiencing 
himself as an independent entity, his own identity became a 
problem. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the concept 
of self was narrowed down increasingly; the self was felt to be 
constituted by the property one had. The formula for this concept 
of self was no longer "I am what I think" but "I am what I 
have," "what I possess." 27 

^William James expressed this concept very clearly. "To have/' he says, 
"a self that I can care for, Nature must first present me with some object 
interesting enough to make me instinctively wish to appropriate it for its own 
sake. . . . My own body and what ministers to its needs are thus the primitive 
object, instinctively determined, of my egoistic interests. Other objects may 
become interesting derivatively, through association with any of these things, 
either as means or as habitual concomitants; and so, in a thousand ways, the 
primitive sphere of the egoistic emotions may enlarge and change its bound- 
aries. This sort of interest is really the meaning of the word mine. Whatever 
has it, is, eo ipso, a part of me!" Principles of Psychology (New York; 
Henry Holt and Company, 2 vols., 1896), I, 319, 324. Elsewhere James 
writes: "It is clear that between what a man calls rue and what he simply calls 
mine, the line is difhcult to draw. We feel and act about certain things that 
are ours very much as we feel and act about ourselves. Our fame, our children, 

334 Erich Fromm 

In the last few generations, under the growing influence of 
the market, the concept of self has shifted from meaning "I am 
what I possess" to meaning "I am as you desire me." 2S Man, 
living in a market economy, feels himself to be a commodity. 
He is divorced from himself, as the seller of a commodity is 
divorced from what he wants to sell. To be sure, he is interested 
in himself, immensely interested in his success on the market, 
but "he" is the manager, the employer, the seller and the com- 
modity. His self-interest turns out to be the interest of "him" 
as the subject who employs "himself," as the commodity which 
should obtain the optimal price on the personality market. 

The "fallacy of self-interest" in modern man has never been 
described better than by Ibsen in Peer Gynt. Peer Gynt believes 
that his whole life is devoted to the attainment of the interests 
of his self. He describes this self as: 

"The Gyntian Self! 

An army, that, of wishes, appetites, desires! 
The Gyntian Self! 

It is a sea of fancies, claims and aspirations; 
In fact, it's all that swells within my breast 
And makes it come about that I am I and live as such." & 

At the end of his life he recognizes that he had deceived him- 
self; that while following the principle of "self-interest" he had 
failed to recognize what the interests of his real self were, and 
had lost the very self he sought to preserve. He is told that he 
never had been himself and that therefore he is to be thrown 
back into the melting pot to be dealt with as raw material. He 
discovers that he has lived according to the Troll principle: "To 

the work of our hands, may be as dear to us as our bodies are, and arouse 
the same feelings and the same acts of reprisal if attacked. ... In its widest 
possible sense, however, a man's Self is the sum-total of all that he can call 
his, not only his body, and his psychic powers, but his clothes and his house, 
his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works, his 
land and horses and yacht and bank account. All these things give him the 
same emotions. If they wax or prosper, he feels triumphant, if they dwindle 
and die away, he feels cast down not necessarily in the same degree for each 
thing, but in much the same way for all." Ibid., I, 291-292. 

28 Pirandello in his plays has expressed this concept of self and the self- 
doubt resulting from it. 

**Loc. cat, Act V, Scene I. 

Selfishness, Self-Love, and Self-Interest 335 

thyself be enough" which is the opposite of the human princi- 
ple: "To thyself be true." He is seized by the horror of nothing- 
ness to which he, who has no self, can not help succumbing 
when the props of pseudo self, success, and possessions are taken 
away or seriously questioned. He is forced to recognize that in 
trying to gain all the wealth of the world, in relentlessly pursuing 
what seemed to be his interest, he had lost his soul or, as I 
would rather say, his self. 

The deteriorated meaning of the concept of self-interest which 
pervades modern society has given rise to attacks on democracy 
from the various types of totalitarian ideologies. These claim 
that capitalism is morally wrong because it is governed by the 
principle of selfishness, and commend the moral superiority of 
their own systems by pointing to their principle of the unselfish 
subordination of the individual to the "higher" purposes of the 
state, the "race," or the "socialist fatherland." They impress not 
a few with this criticism because many people feel that there is 
no happiness in the pursuit of selfish interest, and are imbued 
with a striving, vague though it may be, for a greater solidarity 
and mutual responsibility among men. 

We need not waste much time arguing against the totalitarian 
claims. In the first place, they are insincere since they only dis- 
guise the extreme selfishness of an "elite" that wishes to conquer 
and retain power over the majority of the population. Their 
ideology of unselfishness has the purpose of deceiving those sub- 
ject to the control of the elite and of facilitating their exploita- 
tion and manipulation. Furthermore, the totalitarian ideologies 
confuse the issue by making it appear that they represent the 
principle of unselfishness when they apply to the state as a whole 
the principle of ruthless pursuit of selfishness. Each citizen ought 
to be devoted to the common welfare, but the state is permitted 
to pursue its own interest without regard to the welfare of other 
nations. But quite aside from the fact that the doctrines of totali- 
tarianism are disguises for the most extreme selfishness, they are 
a revival in secular language of the religious idea of intrinsic 
human powerlessness and impotence and the resulting need for 
submission, to overcome which was the essence of modern 
spiritual and political progress. Not only do the authoritarian 

336 Erich Frotnm 

ideologies threaten the most precious achievement of Western 
culture, the respect for the uniqueness and dignity of the individ- 
ual; they also tend to block the way to constructive criticism of 
modern society, and thereby to necessary changes. The failure 
of modern culture lies not in its principle of individualism, not 
in the idea that moral virtue is the same as the pursuit of self- 
interest, but in the deterioration of the meaning of self-interest; 
not in the fact that people are too much concerned with their 
self-interest, but that they are not concerned enough with the 
interest of their real self; not in the fact that they are too selfish, 
but that they do not love themselves. 

If the causes for persevering in the pursuit of a fictitious idea 
of self-interest are as deeply rooted in the contemporary social 
structure as indicated above, the chances for a change in the 
meaning of self-interest would seem to be remote indeed, unless 
one can point to specific factors operating in the direction of 

Perhaps the most important factor is the inner dissatisfaction 
of modern man with the results of his pursuit of "self-interest." 
The religion of success is crumbling and becoming a f agade 
itself. The social "open spaces" grow narrower; the failure of the 
hopes for a better world after the First World War, the depression 
at the end of the twenties, the threat of a new and immensely 
destructive war so shortly after the Second World War, and the 
boundless insecurity resulting from this threat, shake the faith in 
the pursuit of this form of self-interest. Aside from these factors, 
the worship of success itself has failed to satisfy man's ineradi- 
cable striving to be himself. Like so many fantasies and day- 
dreams, this one too fulfilled its function only for a time, as 
long as it was new, as long as the excitement connected with it 
was strong enough to keep man from considering it soberly. 
There is an increasing number of people to whom everything 
they are doing seems futile. They are still under the spell of the 
slogans which preach faith in the secular paradise of success and 
glamour. But doubt, the fertile condition of all progress, has be- 
gun to beset them and has made them ready to ask what their 
real self-interest as human beings is. 

This inner disillusionment and the readiness for a revaluation 

Selfishness, Self-Love, and Self-Interest 337 

of self-interest could hardly become effective unless the economic 
conditions of our culture permitted it. I have pointed out that 
while the canalizing of all human energy into work and the 
striving for success was one of the indispensable conditions of 
the enormous achievement of modern capitalism, a stage has 
been reached where the problem of production has been virtually 
solved and where the problem of the organization of social life 
has become the paramount task of mankind. Man has created 
such sources of mechanical energy that he has freed himself from 
the task of putting all his human energy into work in order to 
produce the material conditions for living. He could spend a 
considerable part of his energy on the task of living itself. 

Only if these two conditions, the subjective dissatisfaction 
with a culturally patterned aim and the socioeconomic basis for 
a change, are present, can an indispensable third factor, rational 
insight, become effective. This holds true as a principle of social 
and psychological change in general and of the change in the 
meaning of self-interest in particular. The time has come when 
the anesthetized striving for the pursuit of man's real interest is 
coming to life again. Once man knows what his self-interest is, 
the first, and the most difficult, step to its realization has been 




1. The Dynamic Concept of Character 

Character traits were and are considered by behavioristically 
orientated psychologists to be synonymous with behavior traits. 
From this standpoint character is defined as "the pattern of 
behavior characteristic for a given individual," l while other 
authors like William McDougall, R. G. Gordon, and Kretschmer 
have emphasized the conative and dynamic element of character 

Freud developed not only the first but also the most consistent 
and penetrating theory of character as a system of strivings 
which underlie, but are not identical with, behavior. In order to 
appreciate Freud's dynamic concept of character, a comparison 
between behavior traits and character traits will be helpful. 
Behavior traits are described in terms of actions which are ob- 
servable by a third person. Thus, for instance, the behavior trait 
"being courageous" would be defined as behavior which is 
directed toward reaching a certain goal without being deterred 
by risks to one's comfort, freedom, or life. Or parsimony as a 
behavior trait would be defined as behavior which aims at saving 
money or other material things. However, if we inquire into the 
motivation and particularly into the unconscious motivation of 

* From Man for Himself : An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics, by 
Erich Fromm, Copyright 1947 by Erich Fromm, reprinted by permission of 
Rinehart & Co., Inc. and Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. 

1 Leland E. Hinsie and Jacob Shatzky, Psychiatric Dictionary. (New York: 
Oxford University Press, 1940.) 


Character 339 

such behavior traits we find that the behavior trait covers numer- 
ous and entirely different character traits. Courageous behavior 
may be motivated by ambition so that a person will risk his life 
in certain situations in order to satisfy his craving for being 
admired; it may be motivated by suicidal impulses which drive a 
person to seek danger because, consciously or unconsciously, he 
does not value his life and wants to destroy himself; it may be 
motivated by sheer lack of imagination so that a person acts 
courageously because he is not aware of the danger awaiting 
him; finally, it may be determined by genuine devotion to the 
idea or aim for which a person acts, a motivation which is con- 
ventionally assumed to be the basis of courage. Superficially the 
behavior in all these instances is the same in spite of the different 
motivations. I say "superficially" because if one can observe such 
behavior minutely one finds that the difference in motivation 
results also in subtle differences in behavior. An officer in battle, 
for instance, will behave quite differently in different situations 
if his courage is motivated by devotion to an idea rather than by 
ambition. In the first case he would not attack in certain situa 
tions if the risks are in no proportion to the tactical ends to be 
gained. If, on the other hand, he is driven by vanity, this passion 
may make him blind to the dangers threatening him and his 
soldiers. His behavior trait "courage" in the latter case is ob- 
viously a very ambiguous asset. Another illustration is parsimony. 
A person may be economical because his economic circum- 
stances make it necessary; or he may be parsimonious because 
he has a stingy character, which makes saving an aim for its 
own sake regardless of the realistic necessity. Here, too, the 
motivation would make some difference with regard to behavior 
itself. In the first case, the person would be very well able to 
discern a situation where it is wise to save from one in which 
it is wiser to spend money. In the latter case he will save regard- 
less of the objective need for it. Another factor which is deter- 
mined by the difference in motivation refers to the prediction of 
behavior. In the case of a "courageous" soldier motivated by 
ambition we may predict that he will behave courageously only 
if his courage can be rewarded. In the case of the soldier who is 

340 Erich Fromm 

courageous because of devotion to his cause we can predict that 
the question of whether or not his courage will find recognition 
will have little influence on his behavior. 

Closely related to Freud's concept of unconscious motivation 
is his theory of the conative nature of character traits. He recog- 
nized something that the great novelists and dramatists had al- 
ways known: that, as Balzac put it, the study of character deals 
with u the forces by which man is motivated"; that the way a 
person acts, feels, and thinks is to a large extent determined by 
the specificity of his character and is not merely the result of 
rational responses to realistic situations; that "man's fate is his 
character." Freud recognized the dynamic quality of character 
traits and that the character structure of a person represents a 
particular form in which energy is canalized in the process of 

Freud tried to account for this dynamic nature of character 
traits by combining his characterology with his libido theory. In 
accordance with the type of materialistic thinking prevalent in 
the natural sciences of the late nineteenth century, which assumed 
the energy in natural and psychical phenomena to be a sub- 
stantial not a relational entity, Freud believed that the sexual 
drive was the source of energy of the character. By a number of 
complicated and brilliant assumptions he explained different 
character traits as "sublimations" of, or "reaction formations" 
against, the various forms of the sexual drive. He interpreted 
the dynamic nature of character traits as an expression of their 
libidinous source. 

The progress of psychoanalytic theory led, in line with the 
progress of the natural and social sciences, to a new concept 
which was based, not on the idea of a primarily isolated individ- 
ual, but on the relationship of man to others, to nature, and to 
himself. It was assumed that this very relationship governs and 
regulates the energy manifest in the passionate strivings of man. 
H. S. Sullivan, one of the pioneers of this new view, has accord- 
ingly defined psychoanalysis as a "study of interpersonal rela- 

The theory presented in the following pages follows Freud's 
characterology in essential points: in the assumption that charac- 

Character 341 

ter traits underlie behavior and must be inferred from it; that 
they constitute forces which, though powerful, the person may 
be entirely unconscious of. It follows Freud also in the assump- 
tion that the fundamental entity in character is not the single 
character trait but the total character organization from which 
a number of single character traits follow. These character traits 
are to be understood as a syndrome which results from a particu- 
lar organization or, as I shall call it, orientation of character. 
I shall deal only with a very limited number of character traits 
which follow immediately from the underlying orientation. A 
number of other character traits could be dealt with similarly, and 
it could be shown that they are also direct outcomes of basic 
orientations or mixtures of such primary traits of character with 
those of temperament. However, a great number of others con- 
ventionally listed as character traits would be found to be not 
character traits in our sense but pure temperament or mere be- 
havior traits. 

The main difference in theory of character proposed here 
from that of Freud is that the fundamental basis of character 
is not seen in various types of libido organization but in specific 
kinds of a person's relatedness to the world. In the process of 
living, man relates himself to the world (1) by acquiring and 
assimilating things, and (2) by relating himself to people (and 
himself). The former I shall call the process of assimilation; 
the latter, that of socialization. Both forms of relatedness are 
"open" and not, as with the animal, instinctively determined. 
Man can acquire things by receiving or taking them from an out- 
side source or by producing them through his own effort. But 
he must acquire and assimilate them in some fashion in order to 
satisfy his needs. Also, man cannot live alone and unrelated to 
others. He has to associate with others for defense, for work, 
for sexual satisfaction, for play, for the upbringing of the young, 
for the transmission of knowledge and material possessions. But 
beyond that, it is necessary for him to be related to others, one 
with them, part of a group. Complete isolation is unbearable and 
incompatible with sanity. Again man can relate himself to others 
in various ways: he can love or hate, he can compete or cooper- 
ate? he can build a social system based on equality or authority, 

342 Erich Fromm 

liberty or oppression; but he must be related in some fashion 
and the particular form of relatedness is expressive of his char- 

These orientations, by which the individual relates himself to 
the world, constitute the core of his character; character can be 
defined as the (relatively permanent) form in which human energy 
is canalized in the process of assimilation and socialization. This 
canalization of psychic energy has a very significant biological 
function. Since man's actions are not determined by innate instinc- 
tual patterns, life would be precarious, indeed, if he had to make 
a deliberate decision each time he acted, each time he took a 
step. On the contrary, many actions must be performed far more 
quickly than conscious deliberation allows. Furthermore, if all 
behavior followed from deliberate decision, many more incon- 
sistencies in action would occur than are compatible with proper 
functioning. According to behavioristic thinking, man learns to 
react in a semiautomatic fashion by developing habits of action 
and thought which can be understood in terms of conditioned 
reflexes. While this view is correct to a certain extent, it ignores 
the fact that the most deeply rooted habits and opinions which 
are characteristic of a person and resistant to change grow from 
his character structure: they are expressive of the particular form 
in which energy has been canalized in the character structure. 
The character system can be considered the human substitute for 
the instinctive apparatus of the animal. Once energy is canalized 
in a certain way, action takes place "true to character." A 
particular character may be undesirable ethically, but at least it 
permits a person to act fairly consistently and to be relieved of 
the burden of having to make a new and deliberate decision every 
time. He can arrange his life in a way which is geared to his 
character and thus create a certain degree of compatibility be- 
tween the inner and the outer situation. Moreover, character 
has also a selective function with regard to a person's ideas and 
values. Since to most people ideas seem to be independent of 
their emotions and wishes and the result of logical deduction, 
they feel that their attitude toward the world is confirmed by 
their ideas and judgments when actually these are as much a 
result of their character as their actions are. This confirmation in 

Character 343 

turn tends to stabilize their character structure since it makes 
the latter appear right and sensible. 

Not only has character the function of permitting the individ- 
ual to act consistently and "reasonably"; it is also the basis for 
his adjustment to society. The character of the child is molded 
by the character of its parents in response to whom it develops. 
The parents and their methods of child training in turn are 
determined by the social structure of their culture. The average 
family is the "psychic agency" of society, and by adjusting him- 
self to his family the child acquires the character which later 
makes him adjusted to the tasks he has to perform in social life. 
He acquires that character which makes him want to do what 
he has to do and the core of which he shares with most members 
of the same social class or culture. The fact that most members 
of a social class or culture share significant elements of character 
and that one can speak of a "social character" representing the 
core of a character structure common to most people of a given 
culture shows the degree to which character is formed by social 
and cultural patterns. But from the social character we must 
differentiate the individual character in which one person differs 
from another within the same culture. These differences are partly 
due to the differences of the personalities of the parents and to 
the differences, psychic and material, of the specific social envi- 
ronment in which the child grows up/But they are also due to 
the constitutional differences of each individual, particularly those 
of temperament. Genetically, the formation of individual charac- 
ter is determined by the impact of its life experiences, the individ- 
ual ones and those which follow from the culture, on temperament 
and physical constitution. Environment is never the same for two 
people, for the difference in constitution makes them experience 
the same environment in a more or less different way. Mere 
habits of action and thought which develop as the result of an 
individual's conforming with the cultural pattern and which are 
not rooted in the character of a person are easily changed under 
the influence of new social patterns. If, on the other hand, a 
person's behavior is rooted in his character, it is charged with 
energy and changeable only if a fundamental change in a per- 
son's character takes place. 

344 Erich Fromm 

In the following analysis nonproductive orientations are differ- 
entiated from the productive orientation. It must be noted that 
these concepts are "ideal-types," not descriptions of the charac- 
ter of a given individual. Furthermore, while, for didactic pur- 
poses, they are treated here separately, the character of any 
given person is usually a blend of all or some of these orienta- 
tions hi which one, however, is dominant. Finally, I want to state 
here that in the description of the nonproductive orientations 
only their negative aspects are presented, while their positive 
aspects are discussed briefly in a later part of this chapter. 2 

2, Types f Characters The Nonproductive Orientations 

<j) The receptive orientation 

In the receptive orientation a person feels "the source of all 
good" to be outside, and he believes that the only way to get what 
tie wants be it something material, be it affection, love, knowl- 
edge, pleasure is to receive it from that outside source. In this 
orientation the problem of love is almost exclusively that of 
"being loved" and not that of loving. Such people tend to be 
indiscriminate in the choice of their love objects, because being 
loved by anybody is such an overwhelming experience for them 
that they "fall for" anybody who gives them love or what looks 
like love. They are exceedingly sensitive to any withdrawal or 
rebuff they experience on the part of the loved person. Their 
orientation is the same in the sphere of thinking: if intelligent, 
they make the best listeners, since their orientation is one of 
receiving, not of producing, ideas; left to themselves, they feel 
paralyzed. It is characteristic of these people that their first 
thought is to find somebody else to give them needed information 
rather than to make even the smallest effort of their own. If 
religious, these persons have a concept of God in which they 
expect everything from God and nothing from their own activity. 

2 See pp. 112E [of Man for Himself]. The following description of the 
non-productive orientations, except that of the marketing, follows the clinical 
picture of the pregenital character given by Freud and others. The theoretical 
difference becomes apparent in the discussion of the hoarding character. 

Character 345 

If not religious, their relationship to persons or institutions is 
very much the same; they are always in search of a "magic 
helper." They show a particular kind of loyalty, at the bottom 
of which is the gratitude for the hand that feeds them and the 
fear of ever losing it. Since they need many hands to feel secure / 
they have to be loyal to numerous people. It is difficult for them 
to say "no," and they are easily caught between conflicting 
loyalties and promises. Since they cannot say "no," they love 
to say "yes" to everything and everybody, and the resulting 
paralysis of their critical abilities makes them increasingly de- 
pendent on others. 

They are dependent not only on authorities for knowledge and 
help but on people in general for any kind of support. They feel 
lost when alone because they feel that they cannot do anything 
without help. This helplessness is especially important with regard 
to those acts which by their very nature can only be done alone 
making decisions and taking responsibility. In personal relation- 
ships, for instance, they ask advice from the very person with 
regard to whom they have to make a decision. 

This receptive type has great fondness for food and drink. 

These persons tend to overcome anxiety and depression by 
eating or drinking. The mouth is an especially prominent feature, 
often the most expressive one; the lips tend to be open, as if in 
a state of continuous expectation of being fed. In their dreams, 
being fed is a frequent symbol of being loved; being starved, an 
expression of frustration or disappointment. 

By and large, the outlook of people of this receptive orienta- 
tion is optimistic and friendly; they have a certain confidence in 
life and its gifts, but they become anxious and distraught when 
their "source of supply" is threatened. They often have a genuine 
warmth and a wish to help others, but doing things for others 
also assumes the function of securing their favor. 

b) The exploitative orientation 

The exploitative orientation, like the receptive, has as its basic 
premise the feeling that the source of all good is outside, that 
whatever one wants to get must be sought there, and that one 

346 Erich Fromm 

cannot produce anything oneself. The difference between the 
two, however, is that the exploitative type does not expect to 
receive things from others as gifts, but to take them away from 
others by force or cunning. This orientation extends to all spheres 
of activity. 

In the realm of love and affection these people tend to grab 
and steal. They feel attracted only to people whom they can take 
away from somebody else. Attractiveness to them is conditioned 
by a person's attachment to somebody else; they tend not to fall 
in love with an unattached person. 

We find the same attitude with regard to thinking and intellec- 
tual pursuits. Such people will tend not to produce ideas but to 
steal them. This may be done directly in the form of plagiarism 
or more subtly by repeating in different phraseology the ideas 
voiced by others and insisting they are new and their own. It is 
a striking fact that frequently people with great intelligence pro- 
ceed in this way, although if they relied on their own gifts they 
might well be able to have ideas of their own. The lack of orig- 
inal ideas or independent production in otherwise gifted people 
often has its explanation in this character orientation, rather than 
in any innate lack of originality. The same statement holds true 
with regard to their orientation to material things. Things which 
they can take away from others always seem better to them than 
anything they can produce themselves. They use and exploit 
anybody and anything from whom or from which they can 
squeeze something. Their motto is: "Stolen fruits axe sweetest." 
Because they want to use and exploit people, they "love" those 
who, explicitly or implicitly, are promising objects of exploitation, 
and get "fed up" with persons whom they have squeezed out. 
An extreme example is the kleptomaniac who enjoys things only 
if he can steal them, although he has the money to buy them. 

This orientation seems to be symbolized by the biting mouth 
which is often a prominent feature in such people. It is not a 
play upon words to point out that they often make "biting" 
remarks about others. Their attitude is colored by a mixture of 
hostility and manipulation. Everyone is an object of exploitation 
and is judged according to his usefulness. Instead of the confi- 
dence and optimism which characterizes the receptive type, one 

Character 347 

finds here suspicion and cynicism, envy and jealousy. Since they 
are satisfied only with things they can take away from others, they 
tend to overrate what others have and underrate what is theirs. 

c) The hoarding orientation 

While the receptive and exploitative types are similar inasmuch 
as both expect to get things from the outside world, the hoarding 
orientation is essentially different. This orientation makes people 
have little faith in anything new they might get from the outside 
world; their security is based upon hoarding and saving, while 
spending is felt to be a threat. They have surrounded themselves, 
as it were, by a protective wall, and their main aim is to bring as 
much as possible into this fortified position and to let as little 
as possible out of it. Their miserliness refers to money and 
material things as well as to feelings and thoughts. Love is es- 
sentially a possession; they do not give love but try to get it by 
possessing the "beloved." The hoarding person often shows a 
particular kind of faithfulness toward people and even toward 
memories. Their sentimentality makes the past appear as golden; 
they hold on to it and indulge in the memories of bygone feelings 
and experiences. They know everything but are sterile and in- 
capable of productive thinking. 

One can recognize these people too by facial expressions and 
gestures. Theirs is the tight-lipped mouth; their gestures are 
characteristic of their withdrawn attitude. While those of the 
receptive type are inviting and round, as it were, and the gestures 
of the exploitative type are aggressive and pointed, those of the 
hoarding type are angular, as if they wanted to emphasize the 
frontiers between themselves and the outside world. Another 
characteristic element in this attitude is pedantic orderliness. The 
hoarder will be orderly with things, thoughts, or feelings, but 
again, as with memory, his orderliness is sterile and rigid. He 
cannot endure things out of place and will automatically rear- 
range them. To him the outside world threatens to break into his 
fortified position; orderliness signifies mastering the world outside 
by putting it, and keeping it, in its proper place in order to avoid 
the danger of intrusion. His compulsive cleanliness is another 

348 Erich Fromm 

expression of Ms need to undo contact with the outside world. 
Things beyond his own frontiers are felt to be dangerous and 
"unclean"; he annuls the menacing contact by compulsive wash- 
ing, similar to a religious washing ritual prescribed after contact 
with unclean things or people. Things have to be put not only 
in their proper place but also into their proper time; obsessive 
punctuality is characteristic of the hoarding type; it is another 
form of mastering the outside world. If the outside world is 
experienced as a threat to one's fortified position, obstinacy is a 
logical reaction. A constant "no" is the almost automatic defense 
against intrusion; sitting tight, the answer to the danger of being 
pushed. These people tend to feel that they possess only a fixed 
quantity of strength, energy, or mental capacity, and that this 
stock is diminished or exhausted by use and can never be re- 
plenished. They cannot understand the self-replenishing function 
of all living substance and that activity and the use of one's 
powers increase strength while stagnation paralyzes; to them, 
death and destruction have more reality than life and growth. 
The act of creation is a miracle of which they hear but in which 
they do not believe. Their highest values are order and security; 
their motto: "There is nothing new under the sun." In their 
relationship to others intimacy is a threat; either remoteness or 
possession of a person means security. The hoarder tends to be 
suspicious and to have a particular sense of justice which in 
effect says: "Mine is mine and yours is yours." 

d) The marketing orientation 

The marketing orientation developed as a dominant one only 
in the modern era. In order to understand its nature one must 
consider the economic function of the market in modern society 
as being not only analogous to this character orientation but as 
the basis and the main condition for its development in modern 

Barter is one of the oldest economic mechanisms. The tradi- 
tional local market, however, is essentially different from the 
market as it has developed in modern capitalism. Bartering on 

Character 349 

a local market offered an opportunity to meet for the purpose of 
exchanging commodities. Producers and customers became ac- 
quainted; they were relatively small groups; the demand was 
more or less known, so that the producer could produce for this 
specific demand. 

The modern market 3 is no longer a meeting place but a 
mechanism characterized by abstract and impersonal demand. 
One produces for this market, not for a known circle of cus- 
tomers; its verdict is based on laws of supply and demand; and 
it determines whether the commodity can be sold and at what 
price. No matter what the use value of a pair of shoes may be, 
for instance, if the supply is greater than the demand, some 
shoes will be sentenced to economic death; they might as well 
not have been produced at all. The market day is the "day of 
judgment" as far as the exchange value of commodities is con- 

The reader may object that this description of the market is 
oversimplified. The producer does try to judge the demand in 
advance, and under monopoly conditions even obtains a certain 
degree of control over it. Nevertheless, the regulatory function 
of the market has been, and still is, predominant enough to have 
a profound influence on the character formation of the urban 
middle class and, through the latter's social and cultural influence, 
on the whole population. The market concept of value, the em- 
phasis on exchange value rather than on use value, has led to a 
similar concept of value with regard to people and particularly 
to oneself. The character orientation which is rooted in the 
experience of oneself as a commodity and of one's value as 
exchange value I call the marketing orientation. 

In our time the marketing orientation has been growing rapidly, 
together with the development of a new market that is a phe- 
nomenon of the last decades the "personality market." Clerks 
and salesmen, business executives and doctors, lawyers and art- 
ists all appear on this market. It is true that their legal status and 
economic positions are different: some are independent, charging 

8 Cf., for the study of history and function of the modern market, K 
Polanyi's TJfie Great Transformation (New York: Rinehart & Company, 1944). 

350 Erich Fromm 

for their services; others are employed, receiving salaries. But all 
are dependent for their material success on a personal acceptance 
by those who need their services or who employ them. 

The principle of evaluation is the same on both the personality 
and the commodity market: on the one, personalities are offered 
for sale; on the other, commodities. Value in both cases is their 
exchange value, for which use value is a necessary but not a 
sufficient condition. It is true, our economic system could not 
function if people were not skilled in the particular work they 
have to perform and were gifted only with a pleasant personality. 
Even the best bedside manner and the most beautifully equipped 
office on Park Avenue would not make a New York doctor suc- 
cessful if he did Dot have a minimum of medical knowledge and 
skill. Even the most winning personality would not prevent a 
secretary from losing her job unless she could type reasonably 
fast. However, if we ask what the respective weight of skill and 
personality as a condition for success is, we find that only in 
exceptional cases is success predominantly the result of skill and 
of certain other human qualities like honesty, decency, and 
integrity. Although the proportion between skill and human 
qualities on the one hand and "personality" on the other hand 
as prerequisites for success varies, the "personality factor' 1 always 
plays a decisive role. Success depends largely on how well a 
person sells himself on the market, how well he gets his person- 
ality across, how nice a "package" he is; whether he is "cheer- 
ful," "sound," "aggressive," "reliable," "ambitious"; furthermore 
what his family background is, what clubs he belongs to, and 
whether he knows the right people. The type of personality re- 
quired depends to some degree on the special field in which a 
person works. A stockbroker, a salesman, a secretary, a railroad 
executive, a college professor, or a hotel manager must each 
offer different kinds of personality that, regardless of their 
differences, must fulfill one condition: to be in demand. 

The fact that in order to have success it is not sufficient to 
have the skill and equipment for performing a given task but 
that one must be able to "put across" one's personality in com- 
petition with many others shapes the attitude toward oneself. If 
it were enough for the purpose of making a living to rely on 

Character 351 

what one knows and what one can do, one's self-esteem would 
be in proportion to one's capacities, that is, to one's use value; 
but since success depends largely on how one sells one's person- 
ality, one experiences oneself as a commodity or rather simul- 
taneously as the seller and the commodity to be sold. A person is 
not concerned with his life and happiness, but with becoming 
salable. This feeling might be compared to that of a commodity, 
of handbags on a counter, for instance, could they feel and 
think. Each handbag would try to make itself as "attractive" as 
possible in order to attract customers and to look as expensive 
as possible in order to obtain a higher price than its rivals. The 
handbag sold for the highest price would feel elated, since that 
would mean it was the most "valuable" one; the one which was 
not sold would feel sad and convinced of its own worthlessness. 
This fate might befall a bag which, though excellent in appear- 
ance and usefulness, had the bad luck to be out of date because 
of a change in fashion. 

Like the handbag, one has to be in fashion on the personality 
market, and in order to be in fashion one has to know what kind 
of personality is most in demand. This knowledge is transmitted 
in a general way throughout the whole process of education, 
from kindergarten to college, and implemented by the family. The 
knowledge acquired at this early stage is not sufficient, however; 
it emphasizes only certain general qualities like adaptability, 
ambition, and sensitivity to the changing expectations of other 
people. The more specific picture of the models for success one 
gets elsewhere. The pictorial magazines, newspapers, and news- 
reels show the pictures and life stories of the successful in many 
variations. Pictorial advertising has a similar function. The suc- 
cessful executive who is pictured in a tailor's advertisement is 
the image of how one should look and be, if one is to draw down 
the "big money" on the contemporary personality market. 

The most important means of transmitting the desired person- 
ality pattern to the average man is the motion picture. The 
young girl tries to emulate the facial expression, coiffure, gestures 
of a high-priced star as the most promising way to success. The 
young man tries to look and be like the model he sees on the 
screen. While the average citizen has little contact with the life 

352 Erich Fromm 

of the most successful people, Ms relationship with the motion- 
picture stars is different. It is true that he has no real contact 
with them either, but he can see them on the screen again and 
again, can write them and receive their autographed pictures. 
In contrast to the time when the actor was socially despised but 
was nevertheless the transmitter of the works of great poets to 
his audience, our motion-picture stars have no great works or 
ideas to transmit, but their function is to serve as the link an 
average person has with the world of the "great." Even if he 
can not hope to become as successful as they are, he can try to 
emulate them; they are his saints and because of their success 
they embody the norms for living. 

Since modern man experiences himself both as the seller and 
as the commodity to be sold on the market, his self-esteem de- 
pends on conditions beyond his control. If he is "successful," he 
is valuable; if he is not, he is worthless. The degree of insecurity 
which results from this orientation can hardly be overestimated. 
If one feels that one's own value is not constituted primarily 
by the human qualities one possesses, but by one's success on a 
competitive market with ever-changing conditions, one's self- 
esteem is bound to be shaky and in constant need of confirma- 
tion by others. Hence one is driven to strive relentlessly for suc- 
cess, and any setback is a severe threat to one's self-esteem; 
helplessness, insecurity, and inferiority feelings are the result. 
If the vicissitudes of the market are the judges of one's value, 
the sense of dignity and pride is destroyed. 

But the problem is not only that of self -evaluation and self- 
esteem but of one's experience of oneself as an independent en- 
tity, of one's identity with oneself. As we shall see later, the 
mature and productive individual derives his feeling of identity 
from the experience of himself as the agent who is one with his 
powers; this feeling of self can be briefly expressed as meaning 
"/ am what I do." In the marketing orientation man encounters 
his own powers as commodities alienated from him. He is not 
one with them but they are masked from him because what 
matters is not his self-realization in the process of using them 
but his success in the process of selling them. Both his powers 
and what they create become estranged, something different from 

Character 353 

himself, something for others to judge and to use; thus Ms feel- 
ing of identity becomes as shaky as his self-esteem; it is consti- 
tuted by the sum total of roles one can play: "I am as you desire 

Ibsen has expressed this state of selfhood in Peer Gynt: Peer 
Gynt tries to discover his self and he finds that he is like an 
onion one layer after the other can be peeled off and there is 
no core to be found. Since man cannot live doubting his identity, 
he must, in the marketing orientation, find the conviction of 
identity not in reference to himself and his powers but in the 
opinion of others about him. His prestige, status, success, the fact 
that he is known to others as being a certain person are a sub- 
stitute for the genuine feeling of identity. This situation makes 
him utterly dependent on the way others look at him and forces 
him to keep up the role in which he once had become successful. 
If I and my powers are separated from each other then, indeed, 
is my self constituted by the price I fetch. 

The way one experiences others is not different from the way 
one experiences oneself. 4 Others are experienced as commodities 
like oneself; they too do not present themselves but their salable 
part. The difference between people is reduced to a merely quanti- 
tative difference of being more or less successful, attractive, hence 
valuable. This process is not different from what happens to 
commodities on the market. A painting and a pair of shoes can 
be expressed in, and reduced to, their exchange value, their 
price; so many pairs of shoes are "equal" to one painting. In the 
same way the difference between people is reduced to a common 
element, their price on the market. Their individuality, that which 
is peculiar and unique in them, is valueless and, in fact, a ballast. 
The meaning which the word peculiar has assumed is quite ex- 
pressive of this attitude. Instead of denoting the greatest achieve- 
ment of man that of having developed his individuality it has 
become almost synonymous with queer. The word equality has 
also changed its meaning. The idea that all men are created equal 
implied that all men have the same fundamental right to be 
considered as ends in themselves and not as means. Today, 

*The fact that relationship to oneself and to others is conjunctive will be 
explained in Chapter IV [of Man for Himself]. 

354 Erich Fromm 

equality has become equivalent to interchangeability , and is the 
very negation of individuality. Equality, instead of being the 
condition for the development of each man's peculiarity, means 
the extinction of individuality, the "selflessness" characteristic of 
the marketing orientation. Equality was conjunctive with dif- 
ference, but it has become synonymous with "in-difference" and, 
indeed, indifference is what characterizes modern man's relation- 
ship to himself and to others. 

These conditions necessarily color all human relationships. 
When the individual self is neglected, the relationships between 
people must of necessity become superficial, because not they 
themselves but interchangeable commodities are related. People 
are not able and cannot afford to be concerned with that which 
is unique and "peculiar" in each other. However, the market 
creates a kind of comradeship of its own. Everybody is involved 
in the same battle of competition, shares the same striving for 
success; all meet under the same conditions of the market (or 
at least believe they do). Everyone knows how the others feel 
because each is in the same boat: alone, afraid to fail, eager to 
please; no quarter is given or expected in this battle. 

The superficial character of human relationships leads many 
to hope that they can find depth and intensity of feeling in in- 
dividual love. But love for one person and love for one's neigh- 
bor are indivisible; in any given culture, love relationships are 
only a more intense expression of the relatedness to man prev- 
alent in that culture. Hence it is an illusion to expect that the 
loneliness of man rooted in the marketing orientation can be 
cured by individual love. 

Thinking as well as feeling is determined by the marketing 
orientation. Thinking assumes the function of grasping things 
quickly so as to be able to manipulate them successfully. 
Furthered by widespread and efficient education, this leads to 
a high degree of intelligence, but not of reason. 5 For manipu- 
lative purposes^ all that is necessary to know is the surface fea- 
tures of things, the superficial. The truth, to be uncovered by 
penetrating to the essence of phenomena, becomes an obsolete 

5 The difference between intelligence and reason will be discussed later on, 
pp. 96 ff. [of Man for Himself]. 

Character 355 

concept truth not only in the prescientific sense of "absolute" 
truth, dogmatically maintained without reference to empirical 
data, but also in the sense of truth attained by man's reason ap- 
plied to his observations and open to revisions. Most intelligence 
tests are attuned to this kind of thinking; they measure not so 
much the capacity for reason and understanding as the capacity 
for quick mental adaptation to a given situation; "mental ad- 
justment tests" would be the adequate name for them. 6 For this 
kind of thinking the application of the categories of comparison 
and of quantitative measurement rather than a thorough analy- 
sis of a given phenomenon and its quality is essential. All prob- 
lems are equally "interesting" and there is little sense of the 
respective differences in their importance. Knowledge itself be- 
comes a commodity. Here, too, man is alienated from his own 
power; thinking and knowing are experienced as a tool to pro- 
duce results. Knowledge of man himself, psychology, which in 
the great tradition of Western thought was held to be the con- 
dition for virtue, for right living, for happiness, has degenerated 
into an instrument to be used for better manipulation of others 
and oneself, in market research, in political propaganda, in ad- 
vertising, and so on. 

Evidently this type of thinking has a profound effect on our 
educational system. From grade school to graduate school, the 
aim of learning is to gather as much information as possible that 
is mainly useful for the purposes of the market. Students are 
supposed to learn so many things that they have hardly time and 
energy left to think. Not the interest in the subjects taught or in 
knowledge and insight as such, but the enhanced exchange value 
knowledge gives is the mam incentive for wanting more and 
better education. We find today a tremendous enthusiasm for 
knowledge and education, but at the same time a skeptical or 
contemptuous attitude toward the allegedly impractical and use- 
less thinking which is concerned "only" with the truth and which 
has no exchange value on the market. 

Although I have presented the marketing orientation as one 

8 Cf. Ernest Schachtel, "Zum Begriff und zur Diagnosis der Persoenlichkeit 
in 'Personality Tests' [On the Concept and Diagnosis of Personality Tests]/* 
Zeitschrift fuer Sozialforschirag (Jahrgang 6, 1937), pp. 597-624. 

356 Erich Fromm 

of the nonproductive orientations, it is in many ways so different 
that it belongs in a category of its own. The receptive, exploita- 
tive, and hoarding orientations have one thing in common: each 
is one form of human relatedness which, if dominant in a person, 
is specific of him and characterizes him. (Later on it will be 
shown that these four orientations do not necessarily have the 
negative qualities which have been described so far. 7 ) The mar- 
keting orientation, however, does not develop something which 
is potentially in the person (unless we make the absurd assertion 
that "nothing" is also part of the human equipment) ; its very 
nature is that no specific and permanent kind of relatedness is 
developed, but that the very changeability of attitudes is the 
only permanent quality of such orientation. In this orientation, 
those qualities are developed which can best be sold. Not one 
particular attitude is predominant, but the emptiness which can 
be filled most quickly with the desired quality. This quality, 
however, ceases to be one in the proper sense of the word; it is 
only a role, the pretense of a quality, to be readily exchanged if 
another one is more desirable. Thus, for instance, respectability is 
sometimes desirable. The salesmen in certain branches of business 
ought to impress the public with those qualities of reliability, 
soberness, and respectability which were genuine in many a 
businessman of the nineteenth century. Now one looks for a 
man who instills confidence because he looks as if he had these 
qualities; what this man sells on the personality market is his 
ability to look the part; what kind of person is behind that role 
does not matter and is nobody's concern. He himself is not in- 
terested in his honesty, but in what it gets for him on the market. 
The premise of the marketing orientation is emptiness, the lack of 
any specific quality which could not be subject to change, since 
any persistent trait of character might conflict some day with 
the requirements of the market. Some roles would not fit in with 
the peculiarities of the person; therefore we must do away 
with them not with the roles but with the peculiarities. The 
marketing personality must be free, free of all individuality. 

The character orientations which have been described so far 
are by no means as separate from one another as it may appear 

7 [Man for Himself], pp. 1125. 

Character 357 

from this sketch. The receptive orientation, for instance, may be 
dominant in a person but it is usually blended with any or all 
of the other orientations. While I shall discuss the various blend- 
ings later on in this chapter, I want to stress at this point that 
all orientations are part of the human equipment, and the domi- 
nance of any specific orientation depends to a large extent on the 
peculiarity of the culture in which the individual lives. Although 
a more detailed analysis of the relationship between the various 
orientations and social patterns must be reserved for a study 
which deals primarily with problems of social psychology, I 
should like to suggest here a tentative hypothesis as to the social 
conditions making for the dominance of any of the four non- 
productive types. It should be noted that the significance of the 
study of the correlation between character orientation and social 
structure lies not only in the fact that it helps us understand some 
of the most significant causes for the formation of character, but 
also in the fact that specific orientations inasmuch as they are 
common to most members of a culture or social class represent 
powerful emotional forces the operation of which we must know 
in order to understand the functioning of society. In view of the 
current emphasis on the impact of culture on personality, I should 
like to state that the relationship between society and the indi- 
vidual is not to be understood simply in the sense that cultural 
patterns and social institutions "influence" the individual. The 
interaction goes much deeper; the whole personality of the aver- 
age individual is molded by the way people relate to each other, 
and it is determined by the socioeconomic and political structure 
of society to such an extent that, in principle, one can infer from 
the analysis of one individual the totality of the social structure 
in which he lives. 

The receptive orientation is often to be found in societies in 
which the right of one group to exploit another is firmly estab- 
lished. Since the exploited group has no power to change, or any 
idea of changing, its situation, it will tend to look up to its masters 
as to its providers, as to those from whom one receives every- 
thing life can give. No matter how little the slave receives, he 
feels that by his own effort he could have acquired even less^ 
since the structure of his societv impresses him with the fact that 

358 Erich Fromrn 

he is unable to organize it and to rely on his own activity and 
reason. As far as contemporary American culture is concerned, 
it seems at first glance that the receptive attitude is entirely ab- 
sent. Our whole culture, its ideas, and its practice discourage the 
receptive orientation and emphasize that each one has to look 
out, and be responsible, for himself and that he has to use his 
own initiative if he wants to "get anywhere." However, while the 
receptive orientation is discouraged, it is by no means absent. 
The need to conform and to please, which has been discussed in 
the foregoing pages, leads to the feeling of helplessness, which 
is the root of subtle receptiveness in modern man. It appears par- 
ticularly in the attitude toward the "expert" and public opinion. 
People expect that in every field there is an expert who can tell 
them how things are and how they ought to be done, and that all 
they ought to do is listen to him and swallow his ideas. There are 
experts for science, experts for happiness, and writers become 
experts in the art of living by the very fact that they are authors 
of best sellers. This subtle but rather general receptiveness as- 
sumes somewhat grotesque forms in modern "folklore," fostered 
particularly by advertising. While everyone knows that realisti- 
cally the "get-rich-quick" schemes do not work, there is a wide- 
spread daydream of the effortless life. It is partly expressed in 
connection with the use of gadgets; the car which needs no 
shifting, the fountain pen which saves the trouble of removing 
the cap are only random examples of this phantasy. It is particu- 
larly prevalent in those schemes which deal with happiness. A 
very characteristic quotation is the following: "This book," the 
author says, "tells you how to be twice the man or woman you 
ever were before happy, well, brimming with energy, confident, 
capable and free of care. You are required to follow no laborious 
mental or physical program; it is much simpler than that. . . . 
As laid down here the route to that promised profit may appear 
strange, for few of us can imagine getting without striving. . . . 
'Yet that is so, as you will see." 8 

The exploitative character, with its motto "I take what I need," 
goes back to piratical and feudal ancestors and goes forward 

8 Hal Falvey, Ten Seconds That Will Change Your Life (Chicago: Wilcox 
& Follett, 1946). 

Character 359 

from there to the robber barons of the nineteenth century who 
exploited the natural resources of the continent. The "pariah" 
and "adventure" capitalists, to use Max Weber's terms, roaming 
the earth for profit, are men of this stamp, men whose aim was 
to buy cheap and sell dear and who ruthlessly pursued power and 
wealth. The free market as it operated in the eighteenth and nine- 
teenth centuries under competitive conditions nurtured this type. 
Our own age has seen a revival of naked exploitativeness in the 
authoritarian systems which attempted to exploit the natural and 
human resources, not so much of their own country but of any 
other country they were powerful enough to invade. They pro- 
claimed the right of might and rationalized it by pointing to the 
law of nature which makes the stronger survive; love and decency 
were signs of weakness; thinking was the occupation of cowards 
and degenerates. 

The hoarding orientation existed side by side with the exploita- 
tive orientation in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The 
hoarding type was conservative, less interested in ruthless acqui- 
sition than in methodical economic pursuits, based on sound 
principles and on the preservation of what had been acquired. 
To him property was a symbol of his self and its protection a 
supreme value. This orientation gave him a great deal of security; 
his possession of property and family, protected as they were by 
the relatively stable conditions of the nineteenth century, con- 
stituted a safe and manageable world. Puritan ethics, with the 
emphasis on work and success as evidence of goodness, sup- 
ported the feeling of security and tended to give life meaning 
and a religious sense of fulfillment. This combination of a stable 
world, stable possessions, and a stable ethic gave the members of 
the middle class a feeling of belonging, self-confidence, and 

The marketing orientation does not come out of the eighteenth 
or nineteenth centuries; it is definitely a modern product. It is 
only recently that the package, the label, the brand name have 
become important, in people as well as in commodities. The 
gospel of working loses weight and the gospel of selling becomes 
paramount. In feudal times, social mobility was exceedingly 
limited and one could not use one's personality to get ahead. In 

360 Erich Fromm 

the days of the competitive market, social mobility was relatively 
great, especially in the United States; if one "delivered the goods" 
one could get ahead. Today, the opportunities for the lone indi- 
vidual who can make a fortune all by himself are, in comparison 
with the previous period, greatly diminished. He who wants to 
get ahead has to fit into large organizations, and his ability to 
play the expected role is one of his main assets. 

The depersonalization, the emptiness, the meaninglessness of 
life, the automatization of the individual result in a growing dis- 
satisfaction and in a need to search for a more adequate way of 
living and for norms which could guide man to this end. The 
productive orientation which I am going to discuss now points 
to the type of character in whom growth and the development of 
all his potentialities is the aim to which all other activities are 

3. The Productive Orientation 

a) General characteristics 

From the time of classic and medieval literature up to the end 
of the nineteenth century a great deal of effort was expended in 
describing the vision of what the good man and the good society 
ought to be. Such ideas were expressed partly in the form of 
philosophical or theological treatises, partly in the form of Utopias. 
The twentieth century is conspicuous for the absence of such 
visions. The emphasis is on critical analysis of man and society, 
in which positive visions of what man ought to be are only im- 
plied. While there is no doubt that this criticism is of utmost 
significance and a condition for any improvement of society, the 
absence of visions projecting a "better" man and a "better" so- 
ciety has had the effect of paralyzing man's faith in himself and 
his future (and is at the same time the result of such a paralysis) . 

Contemporary psychology and particularly psychoanalysis are 
no exception in this respect. Freud and his followers have given 
a splended analysis of the neurotic character. Their clinical de- 
scription of the nonproductive character (in Freud's terms, the 

Character 561 

pregenital character) is exhaustive and accurate quite regard- 
less of the fact that the theoretical concepts they used are in 
need of revision. But the character of the normal, mature, healthy 
personality has found scarcely any consideration. This character, 
called the genital character by Freud, has remained a rather 
vague and abstract concept. It is defined by him as the character 
structure of a person in whom the oral and anal libido has lost 
its dominant position and functions under the supremacy of geni- 
tal sexuality, the aim of which is sexual union with a member of 
the opposite sex. The description of the genital character does not 
go far beyond the statement that it is the character structure of 
an individual who is capable of functioning well sexually and so- 

In discussing the productive character I venture beyond critical 
analysis and inquire into the nature of the fully developed charac- 
ter that is the aim of human development and simultaneously the 
ideal of humanistic ethics. It may serve as a preliminary ap- 
proach to the concept of productive orientation to state its con- 
nection with Freud's genital character. Indeed, if we do not use 
Freud's term literally in the context of his libido theory but 
symbolically, it denotes quite accurately the meaning of pro- 
ductiveness. For the stage of sexual maturity is that in which man 
has the capacity of natural production; by the union of the sperm 
and the egg new life is produced. While this type of production 
is common to man and animals, the capacity for material pro- 
duction is specific for man. Man is not only a rational and social 
animal. He can also be defined as a producing animal, capable 
of transforming the materials which he finds at hand, using his 
reason and imagination. Not only can he produce, he must pro- 
duce in order to live. Material production, however, is but the 
most frequent symbol for productiveness as an aspect of charac- 
ter. The "productive orientation" 9 of personality refers to a 
fundamental attitude, a mode of relatedness in all realms of 
human experience. It covers mental, emotional, and sensory re- 
sponses to others, to oneself, and to things. Productiveness is- 
man's ability to use his powers and to realize the potentialities 

9 Productiveness as used in this book is meant as an expansion of the con- 
cept of spontaneity described in Escape from Freedom. 

352 Erich Fromm 

inherent in him. If we say he must use his powers we imply 
that he must be free and not dependent on someone who controls 
his powers. We imply, furthermore, that he is guided by reason, 
since he can make use of his powers only if he knows what they 
are, how to use them, and what to use them for. Productiveness 
means that he experiences himself as the embodiment of his 
powers and as the "actor"; that he feels himself one with his 
powers and at the same time that they are not masked and 
alienated from him. 

In order to avoid the misunderstandings to which the term 
"productiveness" lends itself, it seems appropriate to discuss 
briefly what is not meant by productiveness. 

Generally the word "productiveness" is associated with crea- 
tiveness, particularly artistic creativeness. The real artist, indeed, 
is the most convincing representative of productiveness. But not 
all artists are productive; a conventional painting, e.g., may 
exhibit nothing more than the technical skill to reproduce the 
likeness of a person in photographic fashion on a canvas. But 
a person can experience, see, feel, and think productively without 
having the gift to create something visible or communicable. 
Productiveness is an attitude which every human being is capable 
of, unless he is mentally and emotionally crippled. 

The term "productive" is also apt to be confused with "active," 
and "productiveness" with "activity." While the two terms can 
be synonymous (for instance, in Aristotle's concept of activity) , 
activity in modern usage frequently indicates the very opposite 
of productiveness. Activity is usually defined as behavior which 
brings about a change in an existing situation by an expenditure 
of energy. In contrast, a person is described as passive if he is 
unable to change or overtly influence an existing situation and is 
influenced or moved by forces outside himself. This current con- 
cept of activity takes into account only the actual expenditure of 
energy and the change brought about by it. It does not distinguish 
between the underlying psychic conditions governing the activi- 

An example, though an extreme one, of nonproductive activity 
is the activity of a person under hypnosis. The person in a deep 
hypnotic trance may have his eyes open, may walk, talk, and do 

Character 36; 

things; he "acts." The general definition of activity would apply 
to him, since energy is spent and some change brought about. 
But if we consider the particular character and quality of this 
activity, we find that it is not really the hypnotized person who 
is the actor, but the hypnotist who, by means of his suggestions, 
acts through him. While the hypnotic trance is an artificial state, it 
is an extreme but characteristic example of a situation in which 
a person can be active and yet not be the true actor, his activity 
resulting from compelling forces over which he has no control. 

A common type of nonproductive activity is the reaction to 
anxiety, whether acute or chronic, conscious or unconscious, 
which is frequently at the root of the frantic preoccupations of 
men today. Different from anxiety-motivated activity, though 
often blended with it, is the type of activity based on submission 
to or dependence on an authority. The authority may be feared, 
admired, or "loved" usually all three are mixed but the cause 
of the activity is the command of the authority, both in a formal 
way and with regard to its contents. The person is active because 
the authority wants him to be, and he does what the authority 
wants him to do. This kind of activity is found in the authori- 
tarian character. To him activity means to act in the name of 
something higher than his own self. He can act in the name of 
God, the past, or duty, but not in the name of himself. The 
authoritarian character receives the impulse to act from a su- 
perior power which is neither assailable nor changeable, and is 
consequently unable to heed spontaneous impulses from within 
himself. 10 

Resembling submissive activity is automaton activity. Here we 
do not find dependence on overt authority, but rather on anony- 
mous authority as it is represented by public opinion, culture 
patterns, common sense, or "science." The person feels or does 
what he is supposed to feel or do; his activity lacks spontaneity 
in the sense that it does not originate from his own mental or 
emotional experience but from an outside source. 

10 But the authoritarian character does not only tend to submit but also 
wishes to dominate others. In fact, both the sadistic and the masochistic sides 
are always present, and they differ only in degree of their strength and their 
repression respectively. (See the discussion of the authoritarian character in 
Escape from Freedom, pp. 141 ff.) 

364 Erich Fromm 

Among the most powerful sources of activity are irrational 
passions. The person who is driven by stinginess, masochism, 
envy, jealousy, and all other forms of greed is compelled to act; 
yet his actions are neither free nor rational but in opposition to 
reason and to his interests as a human being. A person so ob- 
sessed repeats himself, becoming more and more inflexible, and 
more stereotyped. He is active, but he is not productive. 

Although the source of these activities is irrational and the 
acting persons are neither free nor rational, there can be im- 
portant results, often leading to material success. In the concept 
of productiveness we are not concerned with activity necessarily 
leading to practical results but with an attitude, with a mode of 
reaction and orientation toward the world and oneself in the 
process of living. We are concerned with man's character, not 
with his success. 11 

Productiveness is man's realization of the potentialities charac- 
teristic of him, the use of his powers. But what is "power"? It is 
rather ironical that this word denotes two contradictory concepts : 
Power of = capacity and power over = domination. This contra- 
diction, however, is of a particular kind. Power = domination 
results from the paralysis of power = capacity. "Power over" is 
the perversion of "power to." The ability of man to make pro- 
ductive use of his powers is his potency; the inability is his 
impotence. With his power of reason he can penetrate the sur- 
face of phenomena and understand their essence. With his power 
of love he can break through the wall which separates one person 
from another. With his power of imagination he can visualize 
things not yet existing; he can plan and thus begin to create. 
Where potency is lacking, man's relatedness to the world is 
perverted into a desire to dominate, to exert power over others 
as though they were things. Domination is coupled with death, 

u An interesting although incomplete attempt to analyze productive thinking 
is Max Wertheimer's posthumously published work, Productive Thinking 
(New York: Harper & Brothers, 1945). Some of the aspects of productiveness 
are dealt with by Munsterberg, Natorp, Bergson, and James; in Brentano's and 
Husserl's analysis of the psychic "act"; in Dilthey's analysis of artistic produc- 
tion and in O. Schwarz, Mediziniselie Anrhropologie (Leipzig: Hirzel, 1929), 
pp. iii ff. In all these works, however, the problem is not treated in relation to 

Character 365 

potency with life. Domination springs from impotence and in 
turn reinforces it, for if an individual can force somebody else 
to serve him, his own need to be productive is increasingly 

How is man related to the world when he uses his powers 

The world outside oneself can be experienced in two ways: 
re productively by perceiving actuality in the same fashion as a 
film makes a literal record of things photographed (although 
even mere reproductive perception requires the active participa- 
tion of the mind) ; and generatively by conceiving it, by enliven- 
ing and re-creating this new material through the spontaneous 
activity of one's own mental and emotional powers. While to a 
certain extent everyone does react in both ways, the respective 
weight of each kind of experience differs widely. Sometimes either 
one of the two is atrophied, and the study of these extreme cases 
in which the reproductive or the generative mode is almost absent 
offers the best approach to the understanding of each of these 

The relative atrophy of the generative capacity is very fre- 
quent in our culture. A person may be able to recognize things 
as they are (or as his culture maintains them to be), but he is 
unable to enliven his perception from within. Such a person is 
the perfect "realist," who sees all there is to be seen of the sur- 
face features of phenomena but who is quite incapable of pene- 
trating below the surface to the essential, and of visualizing what 
is not yet apparent. He sees the details but not the whole, the 
trees but not the forest. Reality to him is only the sum total of 
what has already materialized. This person is not lacking in 
imagination, but his is a calculating imagination, combining 
factors all of which are known and in existence, and inferring 
their future operation. 

On the other hand, the person who has lost the capacity to 
perceive actuality is insane. The psychotic person builds up an 
inner world of reality in which he seems to have full confidence; 
he lives in his own world, and the common factors of reality as 
perceived by all men are unreal to him. When a person sees ob- 

366 Erich Fromm 

jects which do not exist in reality but are entirely the product 
of his imagination, he has hallucinations; he interprets events in 
terms of his own feelings, without reference to, or at least without 
proper acknowledgment of, what goes on in reality. A paranoid 
person may believe that he is being persecuted, and a chance 
remark may indicate a plan to humiliate and ruin him. He is 
convinced that the lack of any more obvious and explicit mani- 
festation of such intention does not prove anything; that, al- 
though the remark may appear harmless on the surface, its real 
meaning becomes clear if one looks "deeper." For the psychotic 
person actual reality is wiped out and an inner reality has taken 
its place. 

The "realist" sees only the surface features of things; he sees 
the manifest world, he can reproduce it photographically in his 
mind, and he can act by manipulating things and people as 
they appear in this picture. The insane person is incapable of 
seeing reality as it is; he perceives reality only as a symbol and a 
reflection of his inner world. Both are sick. The sickness of the 
psychotic who has lost contact with reality is such that he cannot 
function socially. The sickness of the "realist" impoverishes him 
as a human being. While he is not incapacitated in his social 
functioning, his view of reality is so distorted because of its lack 
of depth and perspective that he is apt to err when more than 
manipulation of immediately given data and short-range aims 
are involved. "Realism" seems to be the very opposite of insanity 
and yet it is only its complement. 

The true opposite of both "realism" and insanity is productive- 
ness. The normal human being is capable of relating himself to 
the world simultaneously by perceiving it as it is and by con- 
ceiving it enlivened and enriched by his own powers. If one of 
the two capacities is atrophied, man is sick; but the normal per- 
son has both capacities even though their respective weights 
differ. The presence of both reproductive and generative ca- 
pacities is a precondition for productiveness; they are opposite 
poles whose interaction is the dynamic source of productiveness. 
With the last statement I want to emphasize that productiveness 
is not the sum or combination of both capacities but that it is 
something new which springs from this interaction. . . . 

Character 367 

b) Productive love and thinking 

Human existence is characterized by the fact that man is 
alone and separated from the world; not being able to stand the 
separation, he is impelled to seek for relatedness and oneness. 
There are many ways in which he can realize this need, but only 
one in which he, as a unique entity, remains intact; only one in 
which his own powers unfold in the very process of being related. 
It is the paradox of human existence that man must simul- 
taneously seek for closeness and for independence; for oneness 
with others and at the same time for the preservation of his 
uniqueness and particularity. 12 As we have shown, the answer to 
this paradox and to the moral problem of man is productive- 

One can be productively related to the world by acting and 
by comprehending. Man produces things, and in the process of 
creation he exercises his powers over matter. Man comprehends 
the world, mentally and emotionally, through love and through 
reason. His power of reason enables him to penetrate through 
the surface and to grasp the essence of his object by getting into 
active relation with it. His power of love enables him to break 
through the wall which separates him from another person and 
to comprehend him. Although love and reason are only two 
different forms of comprehending the world and although neither 
is possible without the other, they are expressions of different 
powers, that of emotion and that of thinking, and hence must 
be discussed separately. 

The concept of productive love is very different indeed from 
what is frequently called love. There is hardly any word which 
is more ambiguous and confusing than the word "love." It is 
used to denote almost every feeling short of hate and disgust. 
It comprises everything from the love for ice cream to the love 
for a symphony, from mild sympathy to the most intense feeling 

12 This concept of relatedness as the synthesis of closeness and uniqueness 
is in many ways similar to the concept of "detached attachment" in 
Charles Morris' Paths of Life (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1942), one 
difference being that Morris* frame of reference is that of temperament while 
mine is that of character. 

368 Erich Fromm 

of closeness. People feel they love if they have "fallen for" some- 
body. They call their dependence love, and their possessiveness 
too. They believe, in fact, that nothing is easier than to love, that 
the difficulty lies only in finding the right object, and that their 
failure to find happiness in love is due to their bad luck in not 
finding the right partner. But contrary to all this confused and 
wishful thinking, love is a very specific feeling; and while every 
human being has a capacity for love, its realization is one of the 
most difficult achievements. Genuine love is rooted in produc- 
tiveness and may properly be called, therefore, "productive love.** 
Its essence is the same whether it is the mother's love for the 
child, our love for man, or the erotic love between two indi- 
viduals. (That it is also the same with regard to love for others 
and love for ourselves we shall discuss later.) 13 Although the 
objects of love differ and consequently the intensity and quality 
of love itself differ, certain basic elements may be said to be 
characteristic of all forms of productive love. These are care, 
responsibility, respect, and knowledge. 

""Selfishness, Self-Love, and Self-interest/' pp. 320-337. 



The Search for Glory' 1 

Whatever the conditions under which a child grows up, he will, 
if not mentally defective, learn to cope with others in one way 
or another and he will probably acquire some skills. But there are 
also forces in him which he cannot acquire or even develop by 
learning. You need not, and in fact cannot, teach an acorn to 
grow into an oak tree, but when given a chance, its intrinsic po- 
tentialities will develop. Similarly, the human individual, given a 
chance, tends to develop his particular human potentialities. He 
will develop then the unique alive forces of his real self: the 
clarity and depth of his own feelings, thoughts, wishes, interests; 
the ability to tap his own resources, the strength of his will power; 
the special capacities or gifts he may have; the faculty to express 
himself, and to relate himself to others with his spontaneous 
feelings. All this will in time enable him to find his set of values 
and his aims in life. In short, he will grow, substantially undi- 
verted, toward self-realization. And that is why I speak of tne 
real self as that central inner force, common to all human 
beings and yet unique in each, which is the deep source of 
growth. 1 

Only the individual himself can develop his given potentialities. 
But, like any other living organism, the human individuum needs 

* Reprinted from Neurosis and Human Growth by Karen Homey, by per- 
mission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Copyright 1950 by W. W. 
Norton & Company, Inc. 

1 When in the future a reference is made to growth, it is always meant in 
the sense presented here that of free, healthy development in accordance with 
the potentials of one's generic and individual nature. 


370 Karen Homey 

favorable conditions for his growth "from acorn into oak tree"; 
he needs an atmosphere of warmth to give him both a feeling of 
inner security and the inner freedom enabling him to have his 
own feelings and thoughts and to express himself. He needs the 
good will of others, not only to help him hi his many needs but 
to guide and encourage him to become a mature and fulfilled 
individual. He also needs healthy friction with the wishes and 
wills of others. If he can thus grow with others, in love and in 
friction, he will also grow in accordance with his real self. 

But through a variety of adverse influences, a child may not be 
permitted to grow according to his individual needs and possi- 
bilities. Such unfavorable conditions are too manifold to list here. 
But, when summarized, they all boil down to the fact that the 
people in the environment are too wrapped up in their own 
neuroses to be able to love the child, or even to conceive of him 
as the particular individual he is; their attitudes toward him are 
determined by their own neurotic needs and responses. 2 In simple 
words, they may be dominating, overprotective, intimidating, ir- 
ritable, overexacting, overindulgent, erratic, partial to other sib- 
lings, hypocritical, indifferent, etc. It is never a matter of just 
a single factor, but always the whole constellation that exerts 
the untoward influence on a child's growth. 

As a result, the child does not develop a feeling of belonging, 
of "we," but instead a profound insecurity and vague apprehen- 
siveness, for which I use the term basic anxiety. It is his feeling 
of being isolated and helpless in a world conceived as potentially 
hostile. The cramping pressure of his basic anxiety prevents the 
child from relating himself to others with the spontaneity of his 
real feelings, and forces him to find ways to cope with them. 
He must (unconsciously) deal with them in ways which do not 
arouse, or increase, but rather allay his basic anxiety. The par- 
ticular attitudes resulting from such unconscious strategical 
necessities are determined both by the child's given temperament 
and by the contingencies of the environment. Briefly, he may 
try to cling to the most powerful person around him; he may try 

2 All the neurotic disturbances in human relations which are summarized in 
Chapter 12 [Neurosis and Human Growth] of this book may operate. 

Cf. also Karen Homey, Our Inner Conflicts, Chapter 2, The Basic Conflict, 
and Chapter 6, The Idealized Image. 

The Search for Glory 371 

to rebel and fight; he may try to shut others out of his inner life 
and withdraw emotionally from them. In principle, this means 
that he can move toward, against, or away from others. . . . 

This first attempt at solving neurotic conflicts is by no means 
superficial. On the contrary, it has a determining influence upon 
the further course his neurotic development takes. Nor does it 
exclusively concern attitudes toward others; inevitably, it entails 
certain changes in the whole personality. According to his main 
direction the child also develops certain appropriate needs, sen- 
sitivities, inhibitions, and the beginnings of moral values. The 
predominantly complying child, for instance, tends not only to 
subordinate himself to others and to lean on them, but also tries 
to be unselfish and good. Similarly, the aggressive child starts 
to place value on strength and on the capacity to endure and to 
fight. . . . 

Despite his early attempts at solving his conflicts with others, 
the individual is still divided and needs a firmer and more com- 
prehensive integration. 

For many reasons, he has not had the chance to develop real 
self-confidence: his inner strength has been sapped by his having 
to be on the defensive, by his being divided, by the way in which 
his early "solution" initiated a one-sided development, thereby 
making large areas of his personality unavailable for constructive 
uses. Hence, he desperately needs self-confidence, or a substitute 
for it. 

He does not feel weakened in a vacuum, but feels specifically 
less substantial, less well equipped for life than others. If he had 
a sense of belonging, his feeling inferior to others would not be 
so serious a handicap. But living in a competitive society, and 
feeling at bottom as he does isolated and hostile, he can only 
develop an urgent need to lift himself above others. 

Even more basic than these factors is his beginning alienation 
from self. Not only is his real self prevented from a straight 
growth, but in addition his need to evolve artificial, strategic 
ways to cope with others has forced him to override his genuine 
feelings, wishes, and thoughts. To the extent that safety has 
become paramount, his innermost feelings and thoughts have 
receded in importance in fact, have had to be silenced and 

372 Karen Homey 

have become indistinct. (It does not matter what he feels, if 
only he is safe.) His feelings and wishes thus cease to be de- 
termining factors; he is no longer, so to speak, the driver, but 
is driven. Also the division in himself not only weakens him in 
general, but reinforces the alienation by adding an element of 
confusion; he no longer knows where he stands, or "who" he 
is. ... Hence, most of all, the individual alienated from him- 
self needs it would be absurd to say a "substitute" for his real 
self, because there is no such thing something that will give 
him a hold, a feeling of identity. This could make him meaning- 
ful to himself and, despite all the weakness in his structure, give 
him a feeling of power and significance. 

Provided his inner conditions do not change (through for- 
tunate life circumstances) , so that he can dispense with the needs 
I have listed, there is only one way in which he can seem to 
fulfill them, and seem to fulfill all of them at one stroke: through 
imagination. Gradually and unconsciously, the imagination sets 
to work and creates in his mind an idealized image of himself. 
In this process he endows himself with unlimited powers and 
with exalted faculties; he becomes a hero, a genius, a supreme 
lover, a saint, a god. 

Self -idealization always entails a general self-glorification, and 
thereby gives the individual the much-needed feeling of signifi- 
cance and of superiority over others. But it is by no means a blind 
self-aggrandizement. Each person builds up his personal idealized 
image from the materials of his own special experiences, his 
earlier fantasies, his particular needs, and also his given faculties. 
If it were not for the personal character of the image, he would 
not attain a feeling of identity and unity. He idealizes, to begin 
with, his particular "solution" of his basic conflict: compliance 
becomes goodness; love, saintliness; aggressiveness becomes 
strength, leadership, heroism, omnipotence; aloofness becomes 
wisdom, self-sufficiency, independence. What according to his 
particular solution appear as shortcomings or flaws are always 
dimmed out or retouched. , . - 

Eventually the individual may come to identify himself with his 
Idealized, integrated image. Then it does not remain a visionary 

The Search for Glory 373 

image which he secretly cherishes; imperceptibly he becomes this 
image: the idealized image becomes an idealized self. And this 
idealized self becomes more real to him than his real self, not 
primarily because it is more appealing but because it answers all 
his stringent needs. This transfer of his center of gravity is an 
entirely inward process; there is no observable or conspicuous 
outward change in him. The change is in the core of his being, 
IP his feeling about himself. It is a curious and exclusively human 
process. It would hardly occur to a cocker spaniel that he 
"really" is an Irish setter. And the transition can occur in a 
person only because his real self has previously become indistinct. 
While the healthy course at this phase of development and at 
any phase would be a move toward his real self, he now starts 
to abandon it definitely for the idealized self. The latter begins 
to represent to him what he "really" is, or potentially is what he 
could be, and should be. It becomes the perspective from which 
he looks at himself, the measuring rod with which he measures 

Self -idealization, in its various aspects, is what I suggest calling 
a comprehensive neurotic solution i.e., a solution not only for 
a particular conflict but one that implicitly promises to satisfy 
all the inner needs that have arisen in an individual at a given 
time. Moreover, it promises not only a riddance from his painful 
and unbearable feelings (feeling lost, anxious, inferior, and di- 
vided), but in addition an ultimately mysterious fulfillment of 
himself and his life. No wonder, then, that when he believes he 
has found such a solution he clings to it for dear life. No wonder 
that, to use a good psychiatric term, it becomes compulsive? 
The regular occurrence of self-idealization in neurosis is the 
result of the regular occurrence of the compulsive needs bred 
in a neurosis-prone environment. 

We can look at self-idealization from two major vantage 
points: it is the logical outcome of an early development and it 
is also the beginning of a new one. It is bound to have far-reach- 
ing influence upon the further development because there simply 

8 We shall discuss the exact meaning of compulsiveness when we have a 
ipnre complete view of some further steps involved in this solution. 

374 Karen Homey 

is no more consequential step to be taken than the abandoning 
of the real self. But the main reason for its revolutionary effect 
lies in another implication of this step. The energies driving 
toward self -realization are shifted to the aim of actualizing the 
idealized self. This shift means no more and no less than a change 
in the course of the individual's whole life and development. 

We shall see throughout this book the manifold ways in which 
this shift in direction exerts a molding influence upon the whole 
personality. Its more immediate effect is to prevent self-idealiza- 
tion from remaining a purely inward process, and to force it 
into the total circuit of the individual's life. The individual wants 
to or, rather, is driven to express himself. And this now 
means that he wants to express his idealized self, to prove it in 
action. It infiltrates his aspirations, his goals, his conduct of life, 
and his relations to others. For this reason, self-idealization in- 
evitably grows into a more comprehensive drive which I suggest 
calling by a name appropriate to its nature and its dimensions: 
the search for gtojy. Self-idealization remains its nuclear part. 
The other elements in it, all of them always present, though in 
varying degrees of strength and awareness in each individual 
case, are the need for perfection, neurotic ambition, and the need 
for a vindictive triumph. 

Among the drives toward actualizing the idealized self the 
need for perfection is the most radical one. It aims at nothing less 
than molding the whole personality into the idealized self. Like 
Pygmalion in Bernard Shaw's version, the neurotic aims not only 
at retouching but at remodeling himself in his special kind of 
perfection prescribed by the specific features of his idealized 
image. He tries to achieve this goal by a complicated system of 
shoulds and taboos. 

The most obvious and the most extrovert among the elements 
of the search for glory is neurotic ambition, the drive toward, 
external success. While this drive toward excelling in actuality is 
pervasive and tends toward excelling in everything, it is usually 
most strongly applied to those matters in which excelling is most 
feasible for the given individual at a given time. Hence the con- 

The Search for Glory 375 

tent of ambition may well change several times during a lifetime. 
At school a person may feel it an intolerable disgrace not to have 
the very best marks in class. Later on, he may be just as com- 
pulsively driven to have the most dates with the most desirable 
girls. And again, still later, he may be obsessed with making the 
most money, or being the most prominent in politics. Such 
changes easily give rise to certain self-deceptions. A person who 
has at one period been fanatically determined to be the greatest 
athletic hero, or war hero, may at another period become equally 
bent on being the greatest saint. He may believe, then, that he 
has "lost" his ambition. Or he may decide that excelling in ath- 
letics or in war was not what he "really" wanted. Thus he may 
fail to realize that he still sails on the boat of ambition but has 
merely changed the course. Of course, one must also analyze in 
detail what made him change his course at that particular time. 
I emphasize these changes because they point to the fact that 
people in the clutches of ambition are but little related to the 
content of what they are doing. What counts is the excelling 
itself. If one did not recognize this unrelatedness, many changes 
would be incomprehensible. . . . 

The picture varies, however, in many ways, according to the 
nature of the desired success. Roughly, it may belong more in the 
category of power (direct power, power behind the throne, in- 
fluence, manipulating), or more in the category of prestige (repu- 
tation, acclaim, popularity, admiration, special attention). 

These ambitious drives are, comparatively speaking, the most 
realistic of the expansive drives. At least, this is true in the sense 
that the people involved put in actual efforts to the end of excell- 
ing. These drives also seem more realistic because, with sufficient 
luck, their possessors may actually acquire the coveted glamor, 
honors, influence. But, on the other hand, when they do attain 
more money, more distinction, more power, they also come to 
feel the whole impact of the futility of their chase. They do not 
secure any more peace of mind, inner security, or joy of living. 
The inner distress, to remedy which they started out on the chase 
for the phantom of glory, is still as great as ever. Since these are 

376 Karen Homey 

not accidental results, happening to this or that individual, but 
are inexorably bound to occur, one may rightly say that the 
whole pursuit of success is intrinsically unrealistic. . . * 

The last element in the search for glory, more destructive than 
the others, is the drive toward a vindictive triumph. It may be 
closely linked up with the drive for actual achievement and 
success but, if so, its chief aim is to put others to shame or defeat 
them through one's very success; or to attain the power, by rising 
.to prominence, to inflict suffering upon them mostly of a hu- 
miliating kind. On the other hand, the drive for excelling may 
be relegated to fantasy, and the need for a vindictive triumph 
then manifests itself mainly In often irresistible, mostly uncon- 
scious impulses to frustrate, outwit, or defeat others in personal 
relations. I call this drive "vindictive" because the motivating 
force stems from impulses to take revenge for humiliations 
suffered in childhood impulses which are reinforced during the 
later neurotic development. These later accretions probably are 
responsible for the way in which the need for a vindictive tri- 
umph eventually becomes a regular ingredient in the search for 
glory. Both the degree of its strength and the person's awareness 
of it vary to a remarkable extent. Most people are either entirely 
unaware of such a need or cognizant of it only in fleeting mo- 
ments. Yet it is sometimes out in the open, and then it becomes 
the barely disguised mainspring of life. Among recent historical 
figures Hitler is a good illustration of a person who went through 
humiliating experiences and gave his whole life to a fanatic 
desire to triumph over an ever-increasing mass of people. In his 
case vicious circles, constantly increasing the need, are clearly 
discernible. One of these develops from the fact that he could 
think only in categories of triumph and defeat. Hence the fear 
of defeat made further triumphs always necessary. Moreover, the 
feeling of grandeur, increasing with every triumph, rendered it 
increasingly intolerable that anybody, or even any nation, should 
aot recognize his grandeur. . . . 

Much more frequently the drive toward a vindictive triumph is 
hidden. Indeed, because of its destructive nature, it is the most 
hidden element in the search for glory. It may be that only a 

The Search for Glory 377 

rather frantic ambition will be apparent. In analysis alone are 
we able to see that the driving power behind it is the need to 
defeat and humiliate others by rising above them. The less harm- 
ful need for superiority can, as it were, absorb the more destruc- 
tive compulsion. This allows a person to act out his need, and 
yet feel righteous about it. ... 

There are various solid proofs that the search for glory is a 
comprehensive and coherent entity. In the first place, all the in- 
dividual trends described above regularly occur together in one 
person. Of course one or another element may so predominate as 
to make us speak loosely of, say, an ambitious person, or of a 
dreamer. But that does not mean that the dominance of one ele- 
ment indicates the absence of the others. The ambitious person 
will have his grandiose image of himself too; the dreamer will 
want realistic supremacy, even though the latter factor may be 
apparent only in the way in which his pride is offended by the 
success of others. 4 

Furthermore, all the individual trends involved are so closely 
related that the prevailing trend may change during the lifetime 
of a given person. He may turn from glamorous daydreams to 
being the perfect father and employer, and again to being the 
greatest lover of all time. 

Lastly, they all have in common two general characteristics, 
both understandable from the genesis and the functions of the 
whole phenomenon: their compulsive nature and their imagi- 
native character. Both have been mentioned, but it is desirable 
to have a more complete and succinct picture of their meaning. 

The compulsive nature stems from the fact that the self -ideali- 
zation (and the whole search for glory developing as its sequel) 
is a neurotic solution. When we call a drive compulsive we mean 
the opposite of spontaneous wishes or strivings. The latter are 
an expression of the real self; the former are determined by the 

4 Because personalities often look different in accordance with the trend 
which is prevailing, the temptation to regard these trends as separate entities 
is great. Freud regarded phenomena which are roughly similar to these as 
separate instinctual drives with separate origins and properties. When I made 
a first attempt to enumerate compulsive drives in neurosis they appeared to 
me too as separate "neurotic trends." 

578 Karen Homey 

inner necessities of the neurotic structure. The individual must 
abide by them regardless of his real wishes, feelings, or interest* 
lest he incur anxiety, feel torn by conflicts, be overwhelmed by 
guilt feelings, feel rejected by others, etc. In other words, the 
difference between spontaneous and compulsive is one between 
"I want" and "I must in order to avoid some danger.'* Although 
the individual may consciously feel his ambition or his standards 
of perfection to be what he wants to attain, he is actually driven 
to attain it The need for glory has him in its clutches. Since he 
himself is unaware of the difference between wanting and being 
driven, we must establish criteria for a distinction between the 
two. The most decisive one is the fact that he is driven on the 
road to glory with an utter disregard for himself, for his best 
interests. . . . 

Another criterion of the compulsive nature of the drive for 
g j ory as O f a ny other compulsive drive is its indiscriminate- 
ness. Since the person's real interest in a pursuit does not matter, 
he must be the center of attention, must be the most attractive, 
the most intelligent, the most original whether or not the situ- 
ation calls for it; whether or not, with his given attributes, he 
can be the first. He must come out victorious in any argument, 
regardless of where the truth lies. His thoughts in this matter 
are the exact opposite of those of Socrates: ". . . for surely we 
are not now simply contending in order that my view or that of 
yours may prevail, but I presume that we ought both of us to be 
fighting for the truth." 5 The compulsiveness of the neurotic per- 
son's need for indiscriminate supremacy makes him indifferent to 
truth, whether concerning himself, others, or facts. 

Furthermore, like any other compulsive drive, the search for 
glory has the quality of insatiability. It must operate as long as 
the unknown (to himself) forces are driving him. There may be 
a glow of elation over the favorable reception of some work 
done, over a victory won, over any sign of recognition or ad- 
miration but it does not last. A success may hardly be experi- 
enced as such in the first place, or, at the least, must make room 
for despondency or fear soon after. In any case, the relentless 

5 From Phflebus, The Dialogues of Plato, translated into English by B. 
Jbwett, MA, Random House, New York. 

The Search for Glory 379 

chase after more prestige, more money, more women, more vic- 
tories and conquests keeps going, with hardly any satisfaction 
or respite. 

Finally, the compulsive nature of a drive shows in the reac- 
tions to its frustration. The greater its subjective importance, the 
more impelling is the need to attain its goal, and hence the more 
intense the reactions to frustration. These constitute one of the 
ways in which we can measure the intensity of a drive. Although 
this is not always plainly visible, the search for glory is a most 
powerful drive. It can be like a demoniacal obsession, almost like 
a monster swallowing up the individual who has created it. And 
so the reactions to frustration must be severe. They are indicated 
by the terror of doom and disgrace that for many people is 
spelled in the idea of failure. Reactions of panic, depression, de- 
spair, rage at self and others to what is conceived as "failure" 
are frequent, and entirely out of proportion to the actual impor- 
tance of the occasion. The phobia of falling from heights is a 
frequent expression of the dread of falling from the heights of 
illusory grandeur. Consider the dream of a patient who had a 
phobia about heights. It occurred at a time when he had begun 
to doubt his established belief of unquestioned superiority. In 
the dream he was at the top of a mountain, but in danger of 
falling, and was clinging desperately to the ridge of the peak. 
"I cannot get any higher than I am," he said, "so all I have to 
do in life is to hold on to it." Consciously, he referred to his 
social status, but in a deeper sense this "I cannot get any higher" 
also held true for his illusions about himself. He could not get 
higher than having (in his mind) a godlike omnipotence and 
cosmic significance! 

The second characteristic inherent in all the elements of the 
search for glory is the great and peculiar role imagination plays 
in them. It is instrumental in the process of self-idealization. But 
this is so crucial a factor that the whole search for glory is bound 
to be pervaded by fantastic elements. No matter how much a 
person prides himself on being realistic, no matter how realistic 
indeed his march toward success, triumph, perfection, his imagi- 
nation accompanies him and makes him mistake a mirage for 

380 Karen Homey 

the real thing. One simply cannot be unrealistic about oneself 
and remain entirely realistic in other respects. When the wanderer 
in the desert, under the duress of fatigue and thirst, sees a mirage, 
he may make actual efforts to reach it, but the mirage the glory 
which should end his distress is itself a product of imagination. 

Actually imagination also permeates all psychic and mental 
functions in the healthy person. When we feel the sorrow or the 
joy of a friend, it is our imagination that enables us to do so. 
When we wish, hope, fear, believe, plan, it is our imagination 
showing us possibilities. But imagination may be productive or 
unproductive: it can bring us closer to the truth of ourselves 
as it often does in dreams or carry us far away from it. It can 
make our actual experience richer or poorer. And these differ- 
ences roughly distinguish neurotic and healthy imagination. 

When thinking of the grandiose plans so many neurotics 
evolve, or the fantastic nature of their self-glorification and their 
claims, we may be tempted to believe that they are more richly 
endowed than others with the royal gift of imagination and 
that, for that very reason, it can more easily go astray in them. 
This notion is not borne out by my experience. The endow- 
ment varies among neurotic people, as it does among more 
healthy ones. But I find no evidence that the neurotic per se is 
by nature more imaginative than others. 

Nevertheless the notion is a false conclusion based upon ac- 
curate observations. Imagination does in fact play a greater role 
in neurosis. However, what accounts for this are not constitu- 
tional but functional factors. Imagination operates as it does in 
the healthy person, but in addition it takes over functions which 
it does not normally have. It is put in the service of neurotic 
needs. This is particularly clear in the case of the search for 
glory, which, as we know, is prompted by the impact of power 
ful needs. In psychiatric literature imaginative distortions of 
reality are known as "wishful thinking." It is by now a well- 
established term, but it is nevertheless incorrect. It is too nar- 
row: an accurate term would encompass not only thinking but 
also "wishful" observing, believing, and particularly feeling 
Moreover, it is a thinking or feeling that is determined not 
by our wishes but by our needs. And it is the impact of these 

The Search for Glory 381 

needs that lends imagination the tenacity and power it has in 
neurosis, that makes it prolific and unconstructive. 

The role imagination plays in the search for glory may show 
unmistakably and directly in daydreams. . . . But daydreams, 
while important and revealing when they occur, are not the most 
injurious work of imagination. For a person is mostly aware of 
the fact that he is daydreaming, i.e., imagining things which have 
not occurred or are not likely to occur in the way he is experi- 
encing them in fantasy. At least it is not too difficult for him to 
become aware of the existence and the unrealistic character of 
the daydreams. The more injurious work of imagination concerns 
the subtle and comprehensive distortions of reality which he is 
not aware of fabricating. The idealized self is not completed in 
a single act of creation: once produced, it needs continuing at- 
tention. For its actualization the person must put in an incessant 
labor by way of falsifying reality. He must turn his needs into 
virtues or into more than justified expectations. He must turn 
his intentions to be honest or considerate into the fact of being 
honest or considerate. The bright ideas he has for a paper make 
him a great scholar. His potentialities turn into factual achieve- 
ments. Knowing the "right" moral values makes him a virtuous 
person often, indeed, a kind of moral genius. And of course his 
imagination must work overtime to discard all the disturbing 
evidence to the contrary. 6 

Imagination also operates in changing the neurotic's beliefs. 
He needs to believe that others are wonderful or vicious and 
lo! there they are in a parade of benevolent or dangerous people. 
It also changes his feelings. He needs to feel invulnerable and 
behold! his imagination has sufficient power to brush off pain and 
suffering. He needs to have deep feelings confidence, sympathy, 
love, suffering: his feelings of sympathy, suffering, and the rest 
are magnified. 

The perception of the distortions of inner and outer reality 
which imagination can bring about when put to the service of 
the search for glory leaves us with an uneasy question. Where 
does the flight of the neurotic's imagination end? He does not 

6 Cf. the work of the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell's Nineteen 

382 Karen Homey 

after all lose his sense of reality altogether; where then is the 
border line separating him from the psychotic? If there is any 
border line with respect to feats of imagination, it certainly is 
hazy. We can only say that the psychotic tends to regard the 
processes in his mind more exclusively as the only reality that 
counts, while the neurotic for whatever reasons retains a fair 
interest in the outside world and his place in it and has therefore 
a fair gross orientation in it. 7 Nevertheless, while he may stay 
sufficiently on the ground to function in a way not obviously 
disturbed, there is no limit to the heights to which his imagina- 
tion can soar. It is in fact the most striking characteristic of the 
search for glory that it goes into the fantastic, into the realm of 
unlimited possibilities. . . . 

This soaring into the unlimited is determined by the power 
of the needs behind the drive for glory. The needs for the 
absolute and the ultimate are so stringent that they override the 
checks which usually prevent our imagination from detaching 
itself from actuality. For his well-functioning, man needs both 
the vision of possibilities, the perspective of infinitude, and the 
realization of limitations, of necessities, of the concrete. If a man's 
thinking and feeling are primarily focused upon the infinite and 
the vision of possibilities, he loses his sense for the concrete, for 
the here and now. He loses his capacity for living in the moment. 
He is no longer capable of submitting to the necessities in him- 
self, "to what may be called one's limit." He loses sight of what 
is actually necessary for achieving something. "Every little pos- 
sibility even would require some time to become actuality." His 
thinking may become too abstract. His knowledge may become 
"a kind of inhuman knowing for the production of which man's 
self is squandered, pretty much as men were squandered for the 
building of the Pyramids." His feelings for others may evaporate 
into an "abstract sentimentality for humanity." If, on the other 
hand, a man does not see beyond the narrow horizon of the 
concrete, the necessary, the finite, he becomes "narrow-minded 
and mean-spirited." It is not, then, a question of either-or, but of 

7 The reasons for this difference are complicated. It would be worth examin- 
ing whether crucial among them is a more radical abandoning of the real self 
(and a more radical shift to the idealized self) on the part of the psychotic. 

The Search for Glory 3S3 

both, if there is to be growth. The recognition of limitations, 
laws, and necessities serves as a check against being carried 
away into the infinite, and against the mere "floundering in pos- 
sibilities." 8 

The checks on imagination are malfunctioning in the search 
for glory. This does not mean a general incapacity to see neces- 
sities and abide by them. A special direction in the further 
neurotic development may make many people feel safer to re- 
strict their lives, and they may then tend to regard the possi- 
bility of being carried away into the fantastic as a danger to be 
avoided. They may close their minds to anything that to them 
looks fantastic, be averse to abstract thinking, and overanxiously 
cling to what is visible, tangible, concrete, or immediately use- 
ful. But while the conscious attitude toward these matters varies, 
every neurotic at bottom is loath to recognize limitations to what 
he expects of himself and believes it possible to attain. His need 
to actualize his idealized image is so imperative that he must 
shove aside the checks as irrelevant or nonexistent. . . . 

To be sure, the development is not always so extreme. But 
every neurotic, even though he may pass superficially for healthy, 
is averse to checking with evidence when it comes to his particu- 
lar illusions about himself. And he must be so, because they 
would collapse if he did. The attitude toward external laws and 
regulations varies, but he always tends to deny laws operating 
within himself, refuses to see the inevitability of cause and effect 
in psychic matters, or of one factor following from the other or 
reinforcing the other. ... 

It remains to bring into clearer relief the difference between 
the search for glory and healthy human strivings. On the sur- 
face they may look deceptively similar, so much so that differ- 
ences seem to be variations in degree only. It looks as though the 
neurotic were merely more ambitious, more concerned with 
power, prestige, and success than the healthy person; as though 
his moral standards were merely higher, or more rigid, than 
ordinary ones; as though he were simply more conceited, or 

8 In this philosophical discussion I roughly follow Soren Kierkegaard, Sick- 
ness unto Death, Princeton University Press, 1941, written in 1844. The 
quotations' in this paragraph are taken from this book. 

384 Karen Homey 

considered himself more important than people usually do. And, 
indeed, who will venture to draw a sharp line and say: "This is 
where the healthy ends, and the neurotic begins"? 

Similarities between healthy strivings and the neurotic drives 
exist because they have a common root in specific human poten- 
tialities. Through his mental capacities man has the faculty to 
reach beyond himself. In contrast to other animals, he can im- 
agine and plan. In many ways he can gradually enlarge his 
faculties and, as history shows, has actually done so. The same 
is also true for the life of a single individual. There are no 
rigidly fixed limits to what he can make out of his life, to what 
qualities or faculties he can develop, to what he can create. Con- 
sidering these facts, it seems inevitable that man is uncertain 
about his limitations and, hence, easily sets his goals either too 
low or too high. This existing uncertainty is the base without 
which the search for glory could not possibly develop. 

The basic difference between healthy strivings and neurotic 
drives for glory lies in the forces prompting them. Healthy striv- 
ings stem from a propensity, inherent in human beings, to de- 
velop given potentialities. The belief in an inherent urge to grow 
has always been the basic tenet upon which our theoretical and 
therapeutic approach rests. 9 And this belief has grown ever since 
with ever-new experiences. The only change is in the direction of 
more precise formulation. I would say now that the live forces 
of the real self urge one toward self-realization. ... 

The difference, then, between healthy strivings and neurotic 
drives for glory is one between spontaneity and compulsion; be- 
tween recognizing and denying limitations; between a focus upon 
the vision of a glorious end-product and a feeling for evolution; 
between seeming and being, fantasy and truth. The difference 
thus stated is not identical with that between a relatively healthy 
and a neurotic individual. The former may not be wholeheartedly 

9 By "our" I refer to the approach of the whole Association for the Ad- 
vancement of Psychoanalysis. 

In the introduction to Our Inner Conflicts I said: "My own belief is that 
man has the capacity as well as the desire to develop his potentialities. . . ." 
Cf. also Dr. Kurt Goldstein, Human Nature, Harvard University Press, 1940. 
Goldstein, however, does not make the distinction which is crucial fo* 
human beings between self-realization and the actualization of the idealized 

The Search for Glory 385 

engaged in realizing his real self nor is the latter wholly driven 
to actualize his idealized self. The tendency toward self-realization 
operates in the neurotic too; we could not in therapy give any 
help to the patient's growth if this striving were not in him to 
begin with. But, while the difference between the healthy and the 
neurotic person in this respect is simply one of degree, the dif- 
ference between genuine striving and compulsion drives, despite 
surface similarities, is one of quality and not of quantity. 10 

The most pertinent symbol, to my mind, for the neurotic 
process initiated by the search for glory is the ideational content 
of the stories of the devil's pact. The devil, or some other 
personification of evil, tempts a person who is perplexed by 
spiritual or material trouble with the offer of unlimited powers. 
But he can obtain these powers only on the condition of selling 
his soul or going to hell. The temptation can come to anybody, 
rich or poor in spirit, because it speaks to two powerful desires: 
the longing for the infinite and the wish for an easy way out. 
According to religious tradition, the greatest spiritual leaders of 
mankind, Buddha and Christ, experienced such temptation. But, 
because they were firmly grounded in themselves, they recognized 
it as a temptation and could reject it. Moreover, the conditions 
stipulated in the pact are an appropriate representation of the 
price to be paid in the neurotic's development. Speaking in these 
symbolic terms, the easy way to infinite glory is inevitably also 
the way to an inner hell of self -contempt and self-torment. By 
taking this road, the individual is in fact losing his soul his real 

"When I speak of "the neurotic" I mean a person in whom neurotic 
drives prevail over healthy strivings. 



The Feminine Character" 

The Victorian attitude towards sex, which has loomed so large 
behind Weininger's philosophy, found another expression in the 
doctrine which more than any other ideological factor has con- 
tributed to dispel it. There is a peculiar irony in the fact that 
the very theory which was chiefly responsible for a more enlight- 
ened outlook in matters of sex and for the disappearance of 
Victorian morality should have been tinged with its ideology, 
particularly in its dealing with women. It is probably fair to 
say that no other single scientific theory has so much affected the 
outlook of the present generation as psycho-analysis. It has 
created what W. H. Auden calls "a whole climate of opinion," 
and, no matter whether we are aware of it or not, the way we 
think and the way we feel is coloured by its discoveries. Its 
imprint is perceptible in contemporary art, philosophy, literature, 
no less than in psychology, psychiatry, anthropology, sociology 
and education, and even our every-day commonsense judgments 
bear the mark of its influence. If we no longer take people's 
feelings and thoughts at their face value; if we ask ourselves what 
function certain attitudes fulfil in the life organization of a person; 
if we attribute to unconscious drives the motivation of people's 
overt behaviour; if we talk in a frank and matter-of-fact way about 
sex problems; if we pay attention to early childhood experiences; 
or if we generally attempt to apply a rational system of causation 

* Reprinted from The Feminine Character by Viola Klein by permission of 
International Universities Press, Inc., and Routiedge and Kegan Paul Ltd 
Copyright 1948, by International Universities Press, Inc. 


The Feminine Character 387 

to irrational psychic processes, we proceed on a foundation which 
Freud has built. His technical terms have become part of our 
common vocabulary, and even if we criticize him we use the tools 
which he has supplied. But in doing so we shall at once come 
into conflict with the orthodox school of psycho-analysts. For in 
the same way as doctrinaire Marxists regard as "ideological 
superstructures" all social theories except Marxism, Freudians 
are inclined to take other scientific theories for "rationalizations" 
of unconscious libidinal forces, but refuse to have their own sys- 
tem analysed with respect to underlying emotional motives and 
hidden cultural implications. 

In the interest, however, not only of consistency but of scientific 
advance it is necessary to apply an equal measure of scrutiny to 
psycho-analysis itself and to try, as far as this is possible, to show 
the extent to which it reflects existing trends of thought, prevail- 
ing prejudices and unconscious personal sentiments. Freud's views 
on feminine psychology (expressed in many places, but ex- 
pounded most comprehensively in The Psychology of Women) 1 
seem to give particular proof of these influences. 

The tendency to seek in congenital, constitutional factors the 
clue to what was considered the characteristically feminine per- 
sonality type, was, as we have seen, common to Freud and his 
contemporaries. It is mainly due to the vast progress which 
biological science had made since Darwin and which gave impetus 
and direction to the scientific interest of the later nineteenth cen- 
tury. It has been reflected in Havelock Ellis's work, and expressed 
in such books as Lombroso's La Donna Delinquente, la Prostituta 
e la Donna Normale, P. J. Mobius' Ueber den physiologischen 
Schwachsinn des Weibes (On the Physiological Imbecility of 
Woman) or, more recently, in A. W. Nyemilov's The Biological 
Tragedy of Woman and others. The underlying assumption is 
summed up in the statement: "Anatomy is destiny." 2 The inter- 
pretation Freud gave to the meaning of this anatomical difference 
is, however, his own personal contribution to the discussion of 

1 Chapter XXXIII, "New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis" 
(Hogarth Press, London, 1933). 

2 "Some Psychological Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction between 
the Sexes" (Internat. Journ. of Ps-An., 1927). 

38s Viola Klein 

feminine psychology, and it is in accordance with his general view 
on the overruling importance of sexual factors in mental life. 

In Freud's view the development of the feminine character is 
shaped at the outset by one essential anatomical characteristic 
(typically formulated in negative terms) : the lack of a penis. 
The difference in external genitals is conceived by psycho-analyti- 
cal theory as a deficiency on the part of women. All feminine 
character-traits, interests, attitudes, emotions and wishes are 
reactions, in some form or other, to this basic "defect." Experi- 
ence with female neurotics has taught Freud that there is among 
women a widespread, in fact a general dissatisfaction with their 
sexual role. It is expressed in inferiority feelings, in contempt 
for their own sex, in revolt against their passive role, in envy of 
man's greater freedom, in the ambition to equal man in intel- 
lectual or artistic achievements, in strivings for independence, 
in tendencies to domineer over other people, and in all sorts of 
devices to make up for the social disadvantage of not being a 
man. The root of all these grievances and compensatory mech- 
anisms, the key note, so to speak, to which the entire psychol- 
ogy of women is tuned, is, according to Freud, to be found in 
the early discovery of the girl that she is lacking an essential 

As we learn from our psycho-analytic work all women feel that 
they have been injured in their infancy, and that through no fault of 
their own they have been slighted and robbed of a part of their body; 
and the bitterness of many a daughter towards her mother has as its 
ultimate cause the reproach that the mother has brought her into the 
world as a woman instead of a man. 3 

The psycho-analytic theory is, in short, this: At an early age 
the little girl discovers, by the observation of other children, of 
brothers, or of her father, that there are other human beings 
who have external genitals whereas she has none. This discovery 
comes as a shock to her, "which leaves ineradicable traces on her 
development and character formation, and even in the most 
favourable instances, is not overcome without a great expenditure 

8 Some Character-Types met with in Psycho-Analysis, Collected Papers. 

The Feminine Character 389 

of mental energy." 4 Her envy of man, based on an anatomical 
difference, has an enormous influence on the mental traits of 
women. It is responsible for the comparatively greater part envy 
and jealousy play in their mental life and the consequent lack of 
a sense of justice. It is at the root of the "greater amount of 
narcissism attributed by psycho-analysis to women." "Their 
vanity is partly a further effect of penis-envy, for they are driven 
to rate their physical charms more highly as a belated compensa- 
tion for their original sexual inferiority" [sic]. 5 Feminine beauty 
and "especially that of a woman's face is a substitute to her for 
the loss of a penis." 6 

Modesty "which is regarded as par excellence a characteristic 
of women" is, however much modified by civilized conventions, 
"originally designed to hide the deficiency in their genitals." 7 
If women are thought to have "contributed but little to the 
discoveries and inventions of civilization," they may at least be 
found inventors of the technical processes of plaiting and weaving 
discoveries which owe their origin to the same impulse: to hide 
their physical deficiency. 

The little girl's attachment to her father, the mature woman's 
desire for a child, the mother's particular satisfaction at the birth 
of a son, in fact almost all phenomena of feminine psychology, 
are explained by psycho-analysis as effects of the same basic envy 
and the endeavour to compensate for an organic inferiority. The 
woman who comes to the psycho-analyst for treatment is very 
often, says Freud, driven by the same impulse. "And what she 
quite reasonably expects to get from analysis, such as the capacity 
to pursue an intellectual career, can often be recognized as a 
sublimated modification of this repressed wish." 8 

There are three possible lines of psychological development 
as a reaction to the basic experience of woman's organic "de- 
ficiency." The one leads to "normal femininity," i.e. to recon- 

4 The Psychology of Women, p. 160. 

5 Op. cit. 

& J, Harnik: "The Various Developments Undergone by Narcissism in Men 
and Women" (Internat. Journ. of Ps.-An., Vol. V, 1925). 
7 S. Freud: The Psychology of Women, p. 170. 
8 Ibid., p. 161. 

390 Viola Klein 

ciliation with the feminine sexual role, to acquiescence in the 
passivity that in Freud's view constitutionally goes with it, and 
to the desire for a child. In less favourable cases the painful dis- 
covery of her "castration" may lead to sexual inhibitions and 
to neuroses, or else it may result in a "modification of character 
in the sense of a masculinity complex." 9 The term "masculinity 
complex" is used in psycho-analytical literature in the widest 
sense, including all shades from open homosexuality to mere 
"dreams with male tendencies," or to intellectual interests in 
normal women. It is conceived so widely that it embraces cases 

the repressed wish to be male is found in a sublimated form, i.e. 
masculine interests of an intellectual and professional character and 
other kinds are preferred and accentuated. Femininity, however, is not 
consciously denied; they (i.e. women with a "masculinity complex") 
usually proclaim that these interests are just as much feminine as 
masculine ones. They consider it irrelevant to say that the perform- 
ances of a human being, especially in the intellectual sphere, belong to 
the one or the other sex. This type of woman is well represented in 
the woman's movement of to-day. 10 

According to this description the great majority of women 
in our day would have failed to develop "normal femininity" 
but would have acquired a "masculinity complex" instead. Why 
this should be the case, i.e. why in our time the one pattern 
should prevail over the other, cannot be answered by psycho- 
analysis, according to which both patterns are individual psycho- 
logical reactions to the realization of an organic deficiency. 
However much Freud was aware of the scope of possible varia- 
tions he had no doubts about the "norm." The standards of his 
own culture he took for unalterable laws and he was convinced 
that the division of labour in force in the middle class of his 
period was based on innate sexual differences. 

Further and very far-reaching consequences for the psycho- 
logical development of women result from the different conditions 

8 Ibid. 

10 Karl Abraham: "Manifestations of the Female Castration Complex" 
(Internat. Journ. of Ps.-An., Vol. Ill, 1922). 

The Feminine Character 391 

under which the Oedipus complex develops in women and in 
men, according to their different anatomical structure. 

In her first infancy the pre-Oedipal period the little girl is, 
like the little boy, intensely attached to her mother. With the 
discovery of her own "castration" and, later, the realization that 
her mother, too, lacks a male genital organ, she turns away from 
her mother and chooses her father as a love object. "This means, 
therefore, that as a result of the discovery of the absence of a 
penis, women are as much depreciated in the eyes of the girl as 
in the eyes of the boy, and later, perhaps, of the man." (Note 
the matter of fact way in which the contempt of women is taken 
for granted!) From her father the little girl expects the male 
organ which her mother has refused her; a wish which is later 
transformed into the wish for a child by the father. 

This development is in striking contrast to that of a boy and 
is used to explain a characteristic mental difference between the 
sexes. According to psycho-analytical theory every little boy 
forms an intense attachment to his mother, the Oedipus complex, 
"in which he desires his mother and wants to get rid of his father 
as a rival." n Owing, however, to the fear of castration result- 
ing either from threats or from the observation that there are 
human beings without external sex organs and the fear lest he 
may lose his as a punishment he represses his Oedipus-complex. 
The result of this repression is the formation of a "super-ego," 
i.e. a rigid system of moral standards and valuations imparting to 
the individual a striving for perfection. 

As we have seen before, the relation of the two complexes 
(Castration and Oedipus) is completely different in the two 
sexes. Whereas in the boy they are antagonistic the one being 
used to repress the other in the girl there is no such conflict. Her 
"castration" is an accomplished fact and no threat of it therefore 
exists to counteract her libidinal wishes for her father. She feels 
no urgent need to overcome her Oedipus-complex and she 

remains in the Oedipus situation for an indefinite period; she abandons 
it only late in life, and then only incompletely. The formation of the 
super-ego must suffer in these circumstances; it cannot attain the 
strength and independence which give it its cultural importance, and 

11 The Psychology of Women, p. 166. 

392 Viola Klein 

feminists are not pleased if one points to the way in which this factor 
affects the development of the average feminine character. 12 

It is due to these circumstances that women have "weaker 
social interests" than men and that "their capacity for sublima- 
tion is less." 13 Although Freud would not go as far as to ascribe 
to women an inferior intelligence, he prejudices judgments about 
their intellectual capacity by the rather axiomatic statement that, 
owing to their libidinal organization, women have only a limited 
urge for sublimation. Translated into ordinary language this means 
that women are, by their organic nature, excluded from participa- 
tion in cultural and creative activities. The old argument about 
the intellectual faculties of woman has been transferred on to a 
different plane; clad in a new jargon the traditional view of 
feminine inferiority is here presented afresh. 

There is, according to Freud's theory, still another impedi- 
mental factor in the psychological development of woman. In 
her case the transition from infantile to adult sexuality is partic- 
ularly difficult again for organic reasons. Libido, "the motor 
force of sexual life itself is only one for both sexes and is as 
much in the service of the male as of the female sexual function. 
To itself we can assign no sex." 14 In its infantile stage it develops 
much in the same way in boys and in girls. They both pass 
through the oral, sadistic-anal, and the phallic phase (so called 
after the organ which at each stage forms the centre of libidinal 
satisfaction). They both display the same amount of activity and 
aggressiveness. Any difference that exists is due to individual 
variations rather than to sex differences. 

The organ which in the little girl is the dominant erotogenic 
zone and centre of masturbatory activity during the "phallic" 
phase is her "penis equivalent," the clitoris. In the transition to 
adult sexuality the girl therefore has to change the centre of 
sensitivity and to discover, so to speak, a new, hidden organ, the 
vagina. Thus, with the development of femininity two important 
changes have to be gone through by the girl to which the boy is 
not subjected: Change of the love object (the transfer of her 

u Ibid., p. 166. 
18 Ibid., p. 172. 
M Ibid., p. 169. 

The Feminine Character 393 

attachment from her mother to her father) and, secondly, change 
of the erotogenic zones. This process is in Freud's view very 
difficult and complicated and absorbs a great amount of mental 

It is our impression that more violence is done to libido when 
it is forced into the service of the female function; and that so to 
speak teleologically Nature has paid less careful attention to the 
demands of the female function than to those of masculinity. And 
again speaking teleologically this may be based on the fact that 
the achievement of the biological aim is entrusted to the aggressive- 
ness of the male, and is to some extent independent of the co-opera- 
tion of the female. 15 

The peculiar Freudian concept of sexual intercourse as a 
purely masculine act, viewed in terms more or less similar to 
rape, which underlies the above statement, can be left till later. 
At the present moment the main concern is with the psychological 
consequences resulting, in Freud's view, from the constitutional 
process of maturing femininity. In contrast to the boy for whom 
puberty means a stage of new intensification of the libido, for 
the girl it is a period of increased repressions. It is the masculine 
part of her being which is repressed, coinciding with the transi- 
tion of the erotogenic zone from the "masculine" counterpart of 
her genitals, the clitoris, to her feminine organ, the vagina. This 
repression and the change of centres of sensitivity account for 
the greater disposition of women to neurosis and particularly to 
hysteria 16 which in consequence is a kind of functional disease 
of woman. The absorption of so much mental energy by the 
process of developing femininity is, moreover, in part responsible 
for the diminished power of sublimation in women. And it is, 
according to Freud, due to this process that the psychological 
development of woman is arrested at a much earlier age than 
that of man. 

A man of about thirty seems a youthful and, in a sense, an in- 
completely developed individual of whom we expect that he will be 
able to make good use of the possibilities of development which analy- 

15 Ibid., p. 169. 

18 "Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex" (Imago, London, 1942). 

394 Viola Klein 

sis lays open to him. But a woman of about the same age frequently 
staggers us by her psychological rigidity and unchangeably. Her 
libido has taken up its final positions and seems powerless to leave 
them for others. There are no paths open for further development; it 
is as though the whole process had been gone through and remained 
inaccessible to influences for the future; as though, in fact, the difficult 
development which leads to femininity had exhausted all possibilities 
of the individual. 17 

It did not occur to Freud that under the conditions prevalent 
in his society a woman of thirty had, in fact, not many "paths 
open for further development" and not many possibilities to 
make good use of. At thirty her "final positions" must have 
either been taken up, i.e. she must have been married, or else 
she could not have any expectations for the future. This lack 
of opportunities would in itself suffice to explain the "rigidity" 
and "unchangeably" which Freud observed in his women 
patients, without having to resort to biological hypotheses. 

Summing up, the characteristic mental traits associated with 
the constitutional structure of women and mentioned so far are: 
penis-envy, resulting in a general disposition to envy, jealousy 
and social injustice; a greater amount of narcissism as compared 
with that of men; a weaker urge and a smaller capacity for 
sublimation, i.e. for cultural activities. To this may be added a 
general antagonism to civilization, caused not so much by wom- 
an's physiological structure as by the biological purpose which 
she represents. 

Women represent the interests of the family and sexual life; the 
work of civilization has become more and more men's business; it 
confronts them with ever harder tasks, compels them to sublimations 
of instinct which women are not easily able to achieve. Since man 
has not an unlimited amount of mental energy at his disposal, he must 
accomplish his tasks by distributing his libido to the best advantage. 
What he employs for cultural purposes he withdraws to a great extent 
from women and his sexual life; his constant association with men and 
his dependence on his relations with them even estrange him from 
his duties as husband and father. Woman finds herself thus forced 

w The Psychology of Women, p. 173. 

The Feminine Character 395 

into the background by the claims of culture and she adopts an 
inimical attitude towards it, 18 

The portrait of woman which results if we thus fit together 
the details expounded in different contexts certainly is far from 
flattering. It represents an envious, hysterical person with limited 
intellectual interests and a hostile attitude towards cultural 

The implicit assertion of man's primary superiority, which was 
in strange contrast to contemporary changes in the cultural 
role of women, has been a stumbling-block to many psycho- 
analysts and has evoked doubts and divergencies among some of 
Freud's disciples. Ernest Jones, for instance, said in 1927: "There 
is a healthy suspicion growing that men analysts have been led 
to adopt an unduly phallocentric view of the problems in ques- 
tion, the importance of the female organs being correspondingly 
underestimated." 19 

Karen Homey, too, has taken Freud's interpretation of femi- 
nine psychology as a challenge of "masculine narcissism" and 
opposed it by an assertion of the feminine point of view within 
psycho-analytical theory. To confront the two views affords an 
interesting example of the same set of premises, the same method 
of investigation and the same scientific terminology being used 
to defend two divergent standpoints. Karen Horney would agree 
with Freud that the little girl is in fact constitutionally at a 
disadvantage compared with the little boy, Her organic struc- 
ture makes the gratification of certain (exhibitionistic and mas- 
turbatory) tendencies more difficult for her, and the greater ease 
with which a boy can satisfy his impulse to investigate by examin- 
ing his own body may be the basis for greater objectivity and for 
a greater interest in external objects in the man. But and here 
Karen Horney is in striking contrast to Freud "when she reaches 
maturity a great part in sexual life (as regards creative power 
perhaps even a greater part than that of men) devolves upon a 

15 Civilization and Its Discontent, p. 73, 2nd ed., Hogarth Press, London, 

19 "Early Development of Female Sexuality" (Internat. Jour, of Ps.-An., 

396 Viola Klein 

woman- I mean when she becomes a mother." 20 Her capacity 
for motherhood is so Karen Horney asserts an "indisputable 
superiority" of woman and is the cause of intense envy in boys. 
This envy of feminine productivity is a dynamic factor in mascu- 
line psychology and "serves as one, if not as the essential, driving 
force in the setting up of cultural values." 21 Karen Horney 
admits that the cultural productivity has been incomparably 
greater in men than in women, but, she asks, "is not the tremen- 
dous strength in men of the impulse to creative work in every 
field precisely due to the feeling of playing a relatively small part 
in the creation of living beings, which constantly impels them 
to an over-compensation in achievement?" The penis-envy in 
women has not found a corresponding compensatory expression, 
"either because it is absolutely less than the envy of men," or 
because in normal cases it is transformed into a desire for hus- 
band and child and in this way loses its power as an "incentive 
to sublimation." If, nevertheless, a "flight from womanhood" can 
be observed in women, it is due not to primary instinct but to 
the experience of real physical and social disadvantages. Her 
sense of inferiority is not constitutional but acquired. 

Karen Horney's reply to Freud is an almost exact inversion of 
his theory. To his masculine claim of superiority she opposes 
her claim to feminine biological superiority; his assumption of 
penis-envy in women she answers with her assumption of "envy 
of motherhood" in men; and Freud's contention that sexual 
activity is a masculine prerogative, and that "the achievement of 
the biological aim is entrusted to the aggressiveness of the male," 
she contradicts with the statement that the greater part in sexual 
life and actual biological creation devolves upon women. 

20 Karen Homey: "On the Genesis of the Castration Complex in Women'" 
(Internat. Jour, of Ps.-An., Vol. V, Jan., 1924). 

21 Karen Horney: "The Flight from Womanhood: The Masculinity Complex 
in Women as Viewed by Men and by Women" (Internat. Jour, of Ps.-An., 
Vol. VII, 1926). 

More recently another psycho-analyst, Gregory Zilboorg, equally "inclined to 
think that it is not penis-envy on the part of woman, but woman-envy on the 
part of man, that is psychologically older and therefore more fundamental/ 1 
has made a new departure in psycho-analytical theory based on the assumption 
of a basic feminine superiority in his study: "Masculine and Feminine. Some 
Bioi'gical and Cultural Aspects" (Psychiatry, Vol. 7, Aug., 1944, No. 3). 

The Feminine Character 397 

The whole argument looks like a bid for supremacy between 
two highly interested competitors. It certainly shows how hard 
it is to achieve scientific detachment in matters of personal con- 
cern. And it bears witness to the competitive spirit that has 
animated discussions about feminine traits ever since women 
voiced their claims to consideration as complete individuals and 
pretenders to the Rights of Man. 

Against the rather obvious accusation of masculine partiality 
Freud defends his position with a gallant gesture towards women 
which is quite an amusing example of chivalry entering a scien- 
tific argument: 

Whenever a comparison was made which seemed to be unfavour- 
able to their sex, the ladies were able to express a suspicion that we, 
the men analysts, had never overcome certain deep-rooted prejudices 
against the feminine, and that consequently our investigation suffered 
from bias. On the other hand, on the basis of bisexuality, we found it 
easy to avoid any impoliteness. We had only to say: "This does not 
apply to you. You are an exception, in this respect you are more 
masculine than feminine." a 

Freud could not have given away his attitude of masculine 
superiority more clearly than by this polite bow to the "ladies" 
and his willingness to distinguish some of them with the order of 
merit of being "more masculine than feminine." 

As the bisexuality referred to in the above quotation is a 
corner-stone in Freud's libido-theory it still needs closer examina- 
tion. The bisexuality of all living organisms is one of the more 
recent discoveries of biological science. We have met with some 
of its implications for human psychology both in Havelock Ellis's 
and in Weininger's theories. It means, in short, that every individ- 
ual has, at least potentially if not actually, the characteristics of 
both sexes, but normally develops the one set to. a greater extent 
than the other. There is no clear-cut line between absolute mas- 
culinity and absolute femininity, but reality presents us with a 
mixture of both in different proportions which vary considerably 
with each individual. It is, in Freud's words, "as though the 

! The Psychology of 'Women, pp. 149-50. 

398 Viola Klein 

individual were neither man nor woman, but both at the same 
time, only rather more the one than the other." 23 

In order to determine the proportion of the two elements in 
a given mixture one has first to reduce these to their fundamental 
essence as, for instance, Weininger has done with the stipulation 
of two pure types M and W. For Freud the contrast masculine- 
feminine is, ultimately, the contrast between active and passive; 
or, to be more exact: masculinity implies activity, femininity is 
characterized by a "preference for passive aims," which is not 
quite the same as passivity. ("It may require a good deal of activ- 
ity to achieve a passive end.") 24 In Freud's own words: 

Psychoanalysis has a common basis with biology in that it pre- 
supposes an original bisexuality in human beings (as in animals). 
But psychoanalysis cannot elucidate the intrinsic nature of what in 
conventional or in biological phraseology is termed "masculine" and 
"feminine": it simply takes over the two concepts and makes them 
the foundation of its work. When we attempt to reduce them further 
we find masculinity vanishing into activity and femininity into pas- 
sivity and that does not tell us enough. 25 

Now, it is a peculiar and interesting phenomenon that in 
Freud's interpretation "bisexuality" has a distinctly masculine 
connotation. The period in human life in which bisexuality is 
most pronounced is, naturally, early childhood, i.e. the time 
before adult sexuality, secondary sex characteristics, and psycho- 
logical corollaries intensify the tendencies towards one sex rather 
than the other. At that age we find children of both sexes develop- 
ing the same kind of activity and aggressiveness and a sexuality 
centered on a "masculine" genital. (In girls it is represented by a 
corresponding but, so to speak, underdeveloped organ an "in- 
adequate substitute," as Helene Deutsch calls it 26 the clitoris.) 
The auto-eroticism of both boys and girls is masculine in char- 

Equally, libido, which as the instinctual source of energy to 

28 Ibid., p. 146. 

34 Ibid., p. 148. 

25 "The Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman" (Coll. 
Papers, pp. 202-32, London, 1920). 

^Helene Deutsch: "The Psychology of Women in Relation to the Func- 
tions of Reproduction" (Jntemat. Jour, of Ps.-An., Vol. VI, 1925). 

The Feminine Character 395> 

both men and women is understood to be bisexual, actually, if 
we keep to Freud's definition of masculinity = activity, is a mas- 
culine force. Freud himself remarks that "libido could always be 
called 'masculine,' no matter whether it appears in man or in 
woman, in the sense that, as an instinct, it is always active, even 
if directed towards a passive aim." 27 

This identification of the masculine with an absolute norm is 
a remarkable example of the way in which, in a masculine cul- 
ture, standards of the one sex are generalized and represented as 
neutral here called bisexual and taken as valid for mankind 
in general, irrespective of sex. Georg Simmel, the German sociol- 
ogist, has pointed out 28 that the same is true of all the values 
of our culture: the historical development has been such that 
all categories of our thinking, all norms of our ethics, all artistic 
forms and social institutions are based on this equation of mascu- 
line and "objective" which transforms a psychological superiority, 
resulting from a superior power position, into a logical one. In 
the same way, says Simmel, every government based on subjective 
force tries to defend its authority by an objective justification and 
thus to transform might into right. The psychological mechanism 
by which this generalization of the masculine norm is performed 
is described by Simmel in a passage which is worth quoting in 

To take from two opposite notions, which derive their meaning and 
value from each other, one, and to raise this one to embrace and 
dominate once more the whole game of give and take and of balance, 
this time in an absolute sense, is a thoroughly human tendency, pre- 
sumably of deep metaphysical origin, which has found an historic 
paradigm in the fundamental sexual relation of Man. 

The fact that the male sex is not only considered relatively superior 
to the female, but that it is taken as the universal human norm, applied 
equally to the phenomena of the individual masculine and of the 
individual feminine this fact is, in many different ways, based on the 
power position of the male. If we express the historic relation between 
the sexes crudely in terms of master and slave, it is part of the master's 

27 S. Freud: "Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex" (Imago, London, 

38 Georg Simmel: "Das Relative und das Absolute im Geschlechterproblern" 
(Fhilosophisclje ICultur, Leipzig, 1911). 

400 Viola Klein 

privileges not to have to think continuously of the fact that he is the 
master, while the position of the slave carries with it the constant 
reminder of his being a slave. It cannot be overlooked that the 
woman forgets far less often the fact of being a woman than the 
man of being a man. Innumerable times the man seems to think purely 
objectively, without his masculinity entering his consciousness at all. 
On the other hand it seems as if the woman would never completely 
lose the more or less vague feeling of being a woman; this feeling 
forms the ever-present background underlying all her experiences of 
life. Because masculinity, as a differential factor, in phantasies and 
principles, in achievements and emotional complexes, escapes the 
consciousness of its protagonists more easily than is the case with 
femininity in the corresponding situation (for within the sphere of his 
activities man's interest in his relation to the Feminine is not as vital 
as woman's interest in her relation to the Masculine) expressions of 
masculinity are easily elevated for us to the realm of a supra-specific, 
neutral objectivity and validity (to which their specifically masculine 
connotation, if noticed at all, is subordinated as something individual 
and casual). This fact is evident in the extremely frequent phenome- 
non that certain judgments, institutions, aims, or interests which we 
men, naively so to speak, consider purely objective, are felt by 
women to be thoroughly and characteristically masculine. 

In generalizing the masculine type and making it a universal 
norm Freud went further than anyone else: for, to him, even 
being equipped with male sex organs is part of the general stand- 
ard, to the extent that the "poverty in external genitals" (in K. 
Abraham's term) is considered to be an organic deficiency, and 
that woman is supposed to regard her own biological function 
(i.e. the ability to bear children) as a compensation for her 
constitutional inadequacy. It seems plausible to Freud and his 
school that one half of humanity should have biological reasons 
to feel at a disadvantage for not having what the other half 
possesses (but not vice versa). 

The adoption of masculine standards as the absolute norm 
applicable to mankind as a whole has two equally harmful re- 
sults for the judgment of women. The one is a mystifying over- 
estimation of woman by virtue of those qualities which cannot 
be explained by male criteria. The other is contempt for human 
beings who fail to live up to the norm. 

The Feminine Character 401 

In Freud's writings we find both attitudes represented: on the 
one hand the wonder at the "enigmatic" woman, the approach to 
feminine psychology as a "riddle" to be solved, and a theory 
which views the development of femininity as a particularly 
"difficult and complicated process"; on the other hand there is 
the contempt as we had sufficient occasion to see for her 
inferior intellectual capacities, her greater vanity, her weaker 
sexual instincts, her disposition to neuroses and hysteria, and for 
her constitutional passivity. The latter is, in Freud's view, as- 
sociated with masochistic tendencies. There is, he says, in femi- 
nine psychology "some secret relationship with masochism." 
"The repression of their aggressiveness, which is imposed upon 
women by their constitution and by society, favours the develop- 
ment of strong masochistic impulses, which have the effect of 
binding erotically the destructive tendencies which have been 
turned inward." 29 This contention has been worked out by 
Helene Deutsch into a theory according to which masochistic 
wishes to be violated and humiliated both physically and men- 
tally are the clue to feminine psychology. Her view of sexual 
intercourse as a "sadistic act of taking possession" on the part 
of man, and a "masochistic subjugation" on the part of woman 30 
is but the elaboration of an assumption ever recurring in psycho- 
analytical literature: the view that "sexual activity is essentially 
associated with the male organ, that the woman is only in the 
position to excite the man's libido or respond to it, and that 
otherwise she is compelled to adopt a waiting attitude," 31 that, 
moreover, the sex instinct in woman is weaker and that she 
derives only a limited or indirect satisfaction from sexual inter- 
course. Ferenczi has developed this view into a "Genital Theory" 
according to which the sexual impulse is ultimately man's wish 
to return into the mother's womb a meaning which the sexual 
act cannot assume for woman, who therefore has no fundamental 
impulse for, or primary satisfaction from coitus. What pleasure 
she does derive results partly by way of a "masochistic conversion 

The Psychology of Women, pp. 148-9. 

30 Helene Deutsch: "The Significance of Masochism in the Mental Life of 
Women" (Internat. Jour, of Ps.-An., 1930). 

81 K. Abraham: "Manifestations of the Female Castration Complex" (Inter. 
Journ. of Ps.-An., Vol. Ill, 1922). 

4Q2 Viola Klein 

and partly by identification with the child which she may con- 
ceive. These, however, are only compensatory devices." The 
feminine attitude towards sex is, like other traits, considered by 
psycho-analytical theory to be based on organic constitution and 
biological function and therefore part of the unchanging "human 
nature." Evidences to the contrary which are supplied by other 
cultures are disregarded, although they are numerous. In Hindu 
books, for instance such as Kdmasutrdm and Andngardnga 
women's urge of love is reckoned to be "eight times as potent 
as that of man"; the code of Manu states that "women are by 
their very nature experts in the seduction of men, henue man 
should avoid being found even with his nearest kin in lonely 
places . . ."; Ovid, in his Ars Amandi, considers woman's 
uncontrollable passion "ten times fiercer than ours and full of 
madness"; in the famous medieval novel Roman de la Rose it is 
said: "A virtuous woman; Nay, I swear by good St. Denis that 
this is more rare than is a phoenix"; and in a seventeenth-century 
book by Vendette a passage runs thus: "In love-affairs men are 
mere children in comparison with women; women have, in such 
matters, a greater imagination and command more time to dwell 
on the affairs of the heart; they are more lascivious and love-sick 
than men." 32 

It thus appears that judgments on the strength or weakness of 
the sex impulse in women are not based on organic facts but are 
in accordance with a cultural pattern, and vary with time and 
milieu. In Western civilization during the nineteenth and at the 
beginning of the twentieth century it would have been not only 
scandalous to admit the existence of a strong sex urge in women, 
but it would have been contrary to all observation. And although 
the enforcement of rules of conduct and of so many restrictions 
was deemed prudent in order to keep up the illusion of "innate" 
feminine virtuousness, it never occurred to our fathers and 
grandfathers that it was but an illusion and that, had this not 
been so, the rigorous supervision of their daughters and wives 
would hardly have been necessary. 

32 Examples quoted from The Riddle of Woman (op. cTt) By Joseph 
Tenenbaum, who gives these and more instances in his chapter on "The Sex 
Urge in Woman." 

The Feminine Character 403 

Even Karen Homey, the "equalitarian" among the psycho- 
analysts, would not go as far as to oppose to the masculine sex 
impulse a corresponding primary feminine sex impulse, but 
would base her claims to feminine equality on woman's capacity 
for motherhood. It thus seems that in psycho-analytical theory 
it is understood that there are two different instincts in men and 
women: a sex instinct which is masculine, and an instinct of 
procreation which is feminine. 

Underlying this assumption, as well as other psycho-analytical 
ideas, is the Victorian notion that "sexual activity is lawfully 
masculine" (this is Freud's term), but that for women sexuality 
is a matrimonial duty they have to put up with. To admit that 
from her sexual function a woman could derive an equal amount 
of satisfaction, pleasure, happiness and, if it comes to it, even 
sense of power with man, would have been shocking to Vic- 
torian ideology. The same attitude is also at the bottom of 
Freud's theory of penis-envy; it is the inability to understand that 
woman no less than man has been equipped by Nature with a 
sex instinct and the means to gratify it, and that, if she has any 
reasons for envying man, they are not likely to be of a physio- 
logical character. 

Alfred Adler, who had made inferiority feelings and 'the 
"masculine protest" the central ideas of his Individual Psychol- 
ogy, comes nearer to a sociological interpretation when he asserts 
that in our competitive culture the dichotomy masculine-fem- 
inine has assumed a symbolic value, serving as an analogy to 
more general ideas of socially "superior" and "inferior," of 
"above" and "below." In a society based, like ours, on individual 
competition, Adler finds two unconscious presuppositions under- 
lying the thoughts of both his men and women patients: first, 
that "human relations in all circumstances represent a struggle," 
and, secondly, that "the feminine sex is inferior and by its reac- 
tion serves as the measure of masculine strength." 33 Therefore 
the struggle upwards assumes the form of what Adler calls the 
"masculine protest," i.e. a fight against those qualities in oneself 
which by tradition and consent usually are associated with the 

33 Alfred Adler: The Practice and Theory of Individual Psychology (Kegan 
Paul. London, 1924, p. 35K 

404 Viola Klein 

feminine sex, such as weakness, timidity, shyness, passivity, 
prudishness, etc. Adler's "masculine protest" represents all striv- 
ings for "strength, greatness, riches, knowledge, victory," and all 
"coarseness, cruelty, violence, and activity as such." As the child 
grows up into a hard and competitive world it increasingly wants 
to get rid of those qualities which hamper its struggle for exist- 

The normal craving of the child for nestling, the exaggerated sub- 
missiveness of the neurotically-disposed individual, the feeling^ of 
weakness, of inferiority protected by hyper-sensitiveness, the realiza- 
tion of actual futility, the sense of being permanently pushed aside 
and of being at a disadvantage, all these are gathered together into a 
feeling of femininity. On the contrary, active strivings, both in the 
case of a girl as of a boy, the pursuit of self-gratification, the stirring 
up of instincts and passions are thrown challengingly forward as a 
masculine protest. 84 

The terms "masculine" and "feminine" are clearly used here 
as symbols of a contrasting pair of values: the one implies ali 
positive, desirable qualities, the other one is associated with all 
negative, despicable characteristics. This analogy is based, Adler 
says, on a "false evaluation but one which is extensively nourished 
by our social life." 

Envy of men, refutation of the feminine role, attempts to 
compete with men, or to copy them in order to feel "complete 
individuals," contempt for their own inferiority these are the 
phenomena observed in their women patients both by Freud 
and by Adler and occupying a central position in their respective 
theories. But while Psycho-analysis seeks a biological explanation 
and regards these attitudes as conscious rationalizations designed 
to cover up an underlying organic deficiency, Individual Psychol- 
ogy views them as the expression of a striving for power, a power 
which in our society is associated with the male sex. 

It is as well to remind ourselves that the beginning of women's 
emancipation coincided with the height of capitalist expansion 
and liberal ideology and that both theories originated at this time. 
The striving for power which Adler took as the primary motive 

**Op. cit, (p. 2,. 

The Feminine Character 405 

in human psychology is a typical characteristic of a competitive 
culture. Women who endeavoured to participate in this culture 
did so on a competitive basis. Out of their feminine seclusion 
they came into the open and found all places occupied by men. 
When they wanted to contend with them on the ground of a 
philosophy of Human Rights they found themselves classified as 
hors concours because of their sex. No doubt this disqualification 
was resented by a very great number of them, who reacted to 
it in different ways: with envy, hatred, revolt, inferiority feelings, 
increased exertions to make themselves acceptable by adopting 
as completely as possible the rules of the game (Freud's "mas- 
culinity complex") and other reactions listed by Freud under 
the heading of "penis-envy." The resentment is likely to find a 
most acute expression in unbalanced personalities, such as the 
neurotics who are the pat?"eots and objects of the psychiatrist's 
investigation. There is no doubt that the factual observations 
made by Freud are correct. They are valid, that is to say, for 
the class of people who made up his objects of observation: the 
neurotic persons of middle and upper middle-class origin in the 
Central-European society of his time. They are also valid, most 
probably with corresponding modifications, in every society with 
strong patriarchal traditions. For Freud and his orthodox pupils 
there was no doubt that the patients they analysed, and the peo- 
ple they met, were representatives of "the" human type. Future 
research will have to concentrate on defining the specific charac- 
ter of the field of observation on the basis of comparative evi- 
dence. A modified Freudian theory will have to include such 
social and cultural factors as particular influences of the environ- 
ment, the power of prevailing traditions, ideals and historical 

It was in a sense rather fortunate for psycho-analytical theory 
that, owing to otherwise very fateful political developments in 
Central Europe, a great number of its supporters had to go 
abroad. In foreign countries they came into close contact with 
divergent cultural patterns and different personality types. In 
consequence there came into existence mainly in the United 
States of America a new type of psycho-analyst who, while 
preserving the fundamental achievements of the Freudian school, 

406 Viola Klein 

became increasingly culture-conscious and inclined to a more 
sociological orientation. This new trend has, of course, not af- 
fected all exiled psycho-analysts. Helene Deutsch, for instance, 
has only recently published a Psychology of Woman, 35 in which 
she restates her former orthodox views. But the number of psy- 
cho-analysts with a definite leaning to sociology is large enough 
to be regarded as a new psycho-analytical "school." Among 
these are Karen Horney, Erich Fromm, Clara Thompson and 
others. (Paul Bousfield has, in this country, expressed similar 
tendencies.) These people are supported not only by their own 
experience but by anthropology and sociology two sciences of 
a fairly recent development in their conviction that there is no 
"universal man" or "universal woman," but that human beings 
have to be studied in relation to their milieu or, to use the 
technical term, to the "cultural pattern." The realization that 
in different societies women fulfil different social functions and 
accordingly display different attitudes and mental characteristics 
has shattered the idea of the all-powerful influence of anatomy 
and biological facts on character-traits. As Clara Thompson has 
pointed out, 36 it is possible to explain every single trait attributed 
by Freud to a biologically determined development of the libido 
(such as all the implications of "penis-envy," the repression of 
aggressiveness, passivity and masochism, the narcissistic need to 
be loved, the rigidity, i.e. prematurely arrested character develop- 
ment of women, the weaker super-ego, etc.) by the influence of 
"cultural pressures," that is by the impact of a concrete historical 
dtuation on character structures. 

To suppose that human beings are born as "tabulae rasae" 
on which every trait is to be impressed by social and cultural 
influences of the surroundings would certainly be no less a mis- 
take than to assume that "anatomy is destiny." The dangers of a 
one-sided stress on environmental factors, which a purely socio- 
logical point of view might entail, has been considerably reduced 
by the new turn which psycho-analytical theory has been taking, 
and no doubt, the integration of psycho-analytical with socio- 

85 Dr. Helene Deutsch: Psychology of Woman (Grune & Stratton, 1944). 
38 Clara Thompson: "Cultural Pressures in the Psychology of Women/' pub- 
lished in Psychiatry, Vol, V, No. 3, Baltimore, Aug. 1942. 

The Feminine Character 407 

logical thinking which we are witnessing at present will be most 
fruitful in its effects both on psychological and sociological 


s. FREUD: "The Psychology of Women" (Chapter XXXIII, New Introductory 

Lectures, Hogarth Press, London, 1933). 

"Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex" (Imago, London, 1942). 
Taboo of Virginity, 1918. 

Civilization and Its Discontent (Hogarth Press, London, 1930). 
Totem and Taboo (Kegan Paul, London, 1919). 
The Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman (Collected 

Papers, London, 1920). 
"Civilized Sexual Morality and Modern Nervousness" (Collected Papers, 

Vol. 2, London, 1924). 

Analysis Terminable and Unterminable (London, 1937). 
"Some Psychological Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction Between 

the Sexes" (Internat. Jour, of Ps.-An., London, 1927). 
K. ABRAHAM: "Manifestations of the Female Castration Complex" (Internat. 

Jour, of Ps.-An., Vol. Ill, March, 1922). 

PAUL BOUSFIELD: Sex and Civilization (Kegan Paul, London, 1925). 
c. D. DALY: "The Psychology of Man's Attitude Towards Woman" (British 

Jour, of Medic. Psychology, Vol. X, 1930). 
HELENE DEUTSCH: "The Psychology of Women in Relation to the Functions 

of Reproduction" (Internat. Jour, of Ps.-An., Vol. VI, 1925). 
"The Significance of Masochism in the Mental Life of Women" (Internat. 

/our. of Ps.-An., 1930). 

Psychology of Woman (Grune & Stratton, 1944). 
j. HARNIK: "The Various Developments Undergone by Narcissism in Mer* 

and Women" (Internat. Jour, of Ps.-An., Vol. V, 1925). 
KAREN HORNEY: "On the Genesis of the Castration Complex in Women" 

(Internat. lour, of Ps.-An., Vol. V, January 1924). 
"The Flight from Womanhood: The Masculinity in Women as Viewed by 

Men and by Women" (Internat. Jour, of Ps.-An., Vol. VII, 1926). 
"The Denial of the Vagina" (Internat. Jour, of Ps.-An., 1933). 
The Neurotic Personality of Our Time (Kegan Paul, London, 1937). 
New Ways in Psycho- Analysis (Kegan Paul, London, 1939). 
ERNEST JONES: "Early Development of Female Sexuality (Internat. Jour, of 

Ps.-An., 1927). 

"Phallic Phase" (Internat. Jour, of Ps.-An., 1927) . 

j. H. w. VAN OPHUISEN: "Contributions to the Masculinity Complex in 
Women" (Internat. Jour, of Ps.-An., Vol. V, 1924). 

408 Viola Klein 

CLARA THOMPSON: "The Role of Women in this Culture" (Psychiatry, Vol. 

4, 1941). 
"Cultural Pressures in the Psychology of Women" (Psychiatry, Vol. 5, 


" 'Penis Envy' in Women" (Psychiatry, Vol. 6, 1943). 
ALFRED ADLER: The Practice and Theory of Individual Psychology (Kegan 

Paul, London, 1924). 
ALICE RUHLE-GERSTEL: Freud und Adler (Dresden, 1924). 

Das Frauenproblem der Gegenwart (Leipzig, 1932). 
ERWIN WEXBERG: Individual Psychology and Sex (Jonathan Cape, London, 

GEORG SIMMEL: "Das Relative und das Absolute im Geschlechterproblem" 

(PhiJosophische Kulrur, Leipzig, 1911). 
GREGORY ZILBOORG: "Masculine and Feminine Some Biological and Cultural 

Aspects" (Psychiatry, Vol. 7, 1944). 



Some Effects of the Derogatory 
Attitude Towards Female Sexuality 4 

In an earlier paper 1 I stressed the fact that the actual envy of 
the penis as such is not as important in the psychology of women 
as their envy of the position of the male in our society. This 
position of privilege and alleged superiority is symbolized by 
the possession of a penis. The owner of this badge of power has 
special opportunities while those without have more limited 
possibilities. I questioned in that paper whether the penis in its 
own right as a sexual organ was necessarily an object of envy at 

That there are innate biological differences between the sexual 
life of man and woman is so obvious that one must apologize for 
mentioning it. Yet those who stress this aspect most are too often 
among the first to claim knowledge of the psychic experiences 
and feelings of the opposite sex. Thus for many centuries male 
writers have been busy trying to explain the female. In recent 
years a few women have attempted to present the inner life of 
their own sex, but they themselves seem to have had difficulty in 
freeing their thinking from the male orientation. Psychoanalysts, 
female as well as male, seem for the most part still to be domi- 
nated by Freud's thinking about women. 

* Read at a Symposium on Feminine Psychology, given under the auspices 
of the Department of Psychiatry of the New York Medical College, March 19, 
1950. Reprinted by permission of The William Alanson White Psychiatric 
Foundation, Inc. from Psychiatry, 1950, 13:349-354. Copyright, 1950, by The 
William Alanson White Psychiatric Foundation, Inc. 

3 Clara Thompson, "Penis Envy in Women," Psychiatry (1943) 6:123-125. 


410 Clara Thompson 

Freud was a very perceptive thinker but he was a male, and 
a male quite ready to subscribe to the theory of male superiority 
prevalent in the culture. This must have definitely hampered his 
understanding of experiences in a woman's life, especially those 
specifically associated with her feminine role. 

Of course this thinking can be carried to extreme lengths and 
one can say that no human being can really know what another 
human being actually experiences about anything. However, the 
presence of similar organs justifies us in thinking that we can at 
least approximate an understanding of another person's experi- 
ences in many cases, A headache, a cough, a pain in the heart, 
intestinal cramps, weeping, laughter, joy, a sense of well-being 
we assume that all of these feel to other people very similar to 
what we ourselves experience under those titles. 

In the case of sexual experiences, however, one sex has no 
adequate means of identifying with the experience of the other 
sex. A woman, for instance, cannot possibly be sure that she 
knows what the subjective experience of an erection and male 
orgasm is. Nor can a man identify with the tension and sensations 
of menstruation, or female genital excitation, or child birth. Since 
for many years most of the psychoanalysts were men this may ac- 
count for the prevalence of some misconceptions about female 
sexuality. Homey pointed out in 1926 that Freud's theory that 
little girls believed they had been castrated and that they envied 
boys their penises is definitely a male orientation to the subject. 2 
In this paper she listed several ideas which little boys have about 
girls' genitals. These ideas, she shows, are practically identical 
with the classical psychoanalytic conception of the female. The 
little boys' ideas are based on the assumption that girls also have 
penises, which results in a shock at the discovery of their absence. 
A boy, reasoning from his own life experience, assumes this is 
a mutilation, as a punishment for sexual misdemeanor. This 
makes more vivid to him any castration threats which have been 
made to him. He concludes that the girl must feel inferior and 
envy him because she must have come to the same conclusions 
about her state. In short, the little boy, incapable of imagining 

2 Karen Homey, "Flight from Womanhood/' Internal J. Psycho-Analysis 
(1926) 7:324-339. 

Effects of Derogatory Attitude Towards Female Sexuality 411 

that one could feel complete without a penis, assumes that the 
little girl must feel deprived. It is doubtless true that her lack of 
a penis can activate any latent anxiety the boy may have about 
the security of his own organ, but it does not necessarily follow 
that the girl feels more insecure because of it. 

In the "Economic Problem of Masochism" 3 Freud assumes 
that masochism is a part of female sexuality, but he gives as his 
evidence the phantasies of passive male homosexuals. What a 
passive male homosexual imagines about the experience of being 
a woman is not necessarily similar to female sexual experience. 
In fact, a healthy woman's sexual life is probably not remotely 
similar to the phantasies and longings of a highly disturbed 
passive male personality. 

Recently I heard to my amazement that a well-known psychia- 
trist had told a group of students that in the female sexual life 
there is no orgasm. I can only explain such a statement by assum- 
ing that this man could not conceive of orgasm in the absence 
of ejaculation. If he had speculated that the female orgasm must 
be a qualitatively different experience from that of the male 
because of the absence of ejaculation, one could agree that this 
may well be the case. I think these examples suffice to show that 
many current ideas about female psychosexual life may be dis- 
torted by being seen through male eyes. 

In "Sex and Character" 4 Fromm has pointed out that the 
biological differences in the sexual experience may contribute 
to greater emphasis on one or the other character trends in the 
two sexes. Thus he notes that for the male it is necessary to be 
able to perform, while no achievement is required of the female. 
This, he believes, can have a definite effect on the general charac- 
ter trends. This gives the man a greater need to demonstrate, to 
produce, to have power, while the woman's need is more in the 
direction of being accepted, being desirable. Since her satisfaction 
is dependent on the man's ability to produce, her fear is in being 
abandoned, being frustrated, while his is fear of failure. Fromm 
points out that the woman can make herself available at any 
time and give satisfaction to the man, but the man's possibility of 

8 Freud, Collected Papers 2:255-268; London, Hogarth Press, 1925. 
* Erich Fromm, "Sex and Character," Psychiatry (1943) 6:21-31. 

412 Clara Thompson 

satisfying her is not entirely within his control. He cannot always 
produce an erection at will. 

The effect of basic sexual differences on the character structure 
is not pertinent to this paper. Fromm's thesis that the ability to 
perform is important in male sexual life, that it is especially a 
matter of concern to the male because it is not entirely within 
his control, and that the female may perform at all times if she 
so wishes, are points of importance in my thesis. But I should 
like to develop somewhat different aspects of the situation. 
Fromm shows that the woman can at any time satisfy the male, 
and he mentions the male's concern over successfully perform- 
ing for the female, but he does not at any point discuss how 
important obtaining satisfaction for themselves is in the total 

In general the male gets at least some physiological satisfaction 
out of his sexual performance. Some experiences are more 
pleasurable than others, to be sure, and there are cases of orgasm 
without pleasure. However, for the very reason that he cannot 
force himself to perform, he is less likely to find himself in the 
midst of a totally uncongenial situation. 

The female, however, who permits herself to be used when she 
is not sexually interested or is at most only mildly aroused fre- 
quently finds herself in the midst of an unsatisfactory experience. 
At most she can have only a vicarious satisfaction in the male's 
pleasure. I might mention parenthetically here that some male 
analysts, for example Ferenczi, are inclined to think that identi- 
fication with the male in his orgasm constitutes a woman's true 
sexual fulfillment. This I would question. 

One frequently finds resentment in women who have for some 
reason consented to being used for the male's pleasure. This is 
in many cases covered by an attitude of resignation. A frequent 
answer from women when they are asked about marital sexual 
relations is: "It is all right. He doesn't bother me much." This 
attitude may hold even when in other respects the husband and 
wife like each other; that is, such an attitude may exist even when 
the woman has not been intimidated by threats or violence. She 
simply assumes that her interests are not an important considera- 

Effects of Derogatory Attitude Towards Female Sexuality 413 

Obviously the sexual act is satisfactory to the woman only 
when she actively and from choice participates in her own char- 
acteristic way. If she considered herself free to choose, she would 
refuse the male except when she actually did desire to participate, 

This being the case, it might be fruitful to examine the situa- 
tions in which the woman submits with little or no interest. There 
are, of course, occasions when she genuinely wishes to do this 
for the man's sake; this does not create a problem. More fre- 
quently the cause is a feeling of insecurity in the relationship; 
this insecurity may arise from external factors that is, the male 
concerned may insist on his satisfaction or else! The insecurity 
may also arise from within because of the woman's own feelings 
of inadequacy. These feelings may arise simply from the fact that 
the woman subscribes to the cultural attitude that her needs are 
not as insistent as the man's; but in addition she may have per- 
sonal neurotic difficulties. 

The question arises, How has it become socially acceptable for 
a man to insist on his sexual rights whenever he desires? Is this 
because rape is a possibility, and the woman is physically rela- 
tively defenseless? This must have had some influence in the 
course of society's development. However, it has often been 
proved that even rape is not easy without some cooperation from 
the woman. The neurotic condition of vaginismus illustrates that 
in some conditions even unconscious unwillingness on the part of 
the woman may effectively block male performance. So while the 
superior physical power of the male may be an important factor 
in the frequency of passive compliance, there must be other 
factors. These other factors are not of a biological nature, for 
the participation in sexual relations without accompanying excite^- 
ment is most obviously possible in human females, although not 
definitely impossible in other animals. 

One must look to cultural attitudes for the answer. There are 
two general concepts which are significant here, and to which 
both men and women subscribe in our culture. One is that the 
female sexual drive is not as pressing or important as the male. 
Therefore there is less need to be concerned in satisfying it or 
considering it. The other is the analytically much discussed thesis 
that the female sex organs are considered inferior to those of 
the male. 

414 Clara Thompson 

In recent years there has been a definite tendency to move 
away from the first idea as far as actual sexual performance is 
concerned. With the increasing tendency to be more open in 
observing facts about sex, women in many groups have become 
able not only to admit to themselves but also to men that their 
sexual needs are important. However, this is still not true of all 
groups. Moreover, at almost the same time another important 
aspect of woman's sexual life has diminished in importance; that 
is, the bearing of children. Woman's specific type of creativeness 
is no longer highly desired in many situations. This is an im- 
portant subject in itself and will not be discussed here. 

As we know, during the Victorian era a woman's sexual needs 
were supposed to be practically nonexistent. A woman was ex- 
pected to be able to control her sexual desires at all times. Thus 
an extramarital pregnancy was allegedly entirely due to the 
woman's weakness or depravity. The man's participation in such 
an extramarital relationship was looked upon with more toler- 
ance, and there was little or no social disgrace attached to him. 
The double standard of sexual morality also implied an assump- 
tion that woman's sexual drive was not as insistent as the male's. 

The fact that evidence of erotic excitement could be concealed 
much better by a woman than by a man made the development 
of such thinking possible. Since she was not supposed to be erotic 
and since the man must have his. satisfaction, a pattern was de- 
veloped in which the dutiful wife offered herself to her husband 
without actively participating in the act herself. I am sure many 
women were sufficiently normal to find nonparticipation difficult, 
and doubtless many men did not subscribe to the feeling that they 
should be horrified at any evidence of passion in their wives. 
Nevertheless as recently as twenty years ago a woman, who con- 
sulted me about her marital difficulties, reported that her husband 
felt disgust, it seemed, whenever she responded sexually to him. 
She tried to conceal her sexual responses, including orgasm, from 
him, then would lie awake the rest of the night in misery and 
rage. Since I saw this woman only twice, I am not in a position 
to say how much this situation contributed to her suicide about 
a year later. Undoubtedly there were many other difficulties in 
her relation to her husband of which the sexual may have been 
only one expression. Certainly this extreme denial of sexual 

Effects of Derogatory Attitude Towards Female Sexuality 415 

interest is seldom required of women today, but an attenuated 
form still remains, especially in marriage. Here it is found not 
only in frigid women who, realizing their inadequacy as mates, 
make amends as best they can by a nonparticipating offering of 
themselves. But one also finds the attitude even in women with 
adequate sexual responsiveness in many situations. They have 
accepted the idea that the male's needs are greater than their 
own and that therefore his wishes and needs are paramount. 

So the feeling that woman's sexual life is not as important or 
insistent as the male's may produce two unfortunate situations. 
It may inhibit the woman's natural expressions of desire for 
fear of appearing unwomanly, or it may lead her to feel she 
must be ready to accommodate on all occasions that is, she 
has no rights of her own. Both extremes mean an interference 
with her natural self-expression and spontaneity with resulting 
resentment and discontent. 

Moreover, since the male has often been indoctrinated with 
the idea that woman's sexual life is not important, he may not 
exert himself much to make her interested. He fails to see the 
importance of the art of love. 

When an important aspect of a person's life becomes under- 
valued, this has a negative effect on the self-esteem. What a 
woman actually has to offer in sexual responsiveness becomes 
undervalued, and this in turn affects her own evaluation of her- 
self as a person. 

The second way in which our culture has minimized woman's 
sexual assets is in the derogation of her genitals. This in classical 
terminology is connected with the idea of penis envy. I wish to 
approach the problem differently. As I said earlier, the idea of 
penis envy is a male concept. It is the male who experiences the 
penis as a valuable organ and he assumes that women also must 
feel that way about it. But a woman cannot really imagine the 
sexual pleasure of the penis she can only appreciate the social 
advantages its possessor has. 5 What a woman needs rather is a 
feeling of the importance of her own organs. I believe that much 
more important than penis envy in the psychology of woman is 

5 1 do not wish to leave the impression that there is never a woman who 
thinks she desires to possess the male genital as such, but I believe such 
women are found relatively rarely. 

416 Clara Thompson 

her reaction to the undervaluation of her own organs. I think 
we can concede that the acceptance of one's body and all its 
functions is a basic need in the establishment of self-respect and 

The short plump brunette girl may feel that she would be more 
acceptable if she were a tall thin blond in other words, if she 
were somebody else. The solution of her problem lies not in 
becoming a blond but in finding out why she is not accepting of 
what she is. The history will show either that some significant 
person in her early life preferred a tall blond or that being a 
brunette has become associated with other unacceptable charac- 
teristics. Thus in one case in which this envy of the blond type 
was present, being brunette meant being sexy, and being sexy 
was frowned upon. 

Sex in general has come under the disapproval of two kinds of 
thinking in our culture. The puritan ideal is denial of body pleas- 
ure, and this makes sexual needs something of which to be 
ashamed. Traces of this attitude still remain today in the feelings 
of both sexes. 

We also have another attitude which derogates sexuality, es- 
pecially female sexuality. We are people with great emphasis on 
cleanliness. In many people's minds the genital organs are classed 
with the organs of excretion and thus become associated with the 
idea of being unclean. With the male some of the curse is re- 
moved because he gets rid of the objectionable product. The 
female, however, receives it, and when her attitude is strongly 
influenced by the dirty excretion concept, this increases her feel- 
ing of unacceptability. Moreover, the men who feel the sexual 
product is unclean reinforce the woman's feeling that her genitals 
are unclean. 

The child's unrestrained pleasure in his body and its products 
begins to be curbed at an early age. This is such a fundamental 
part of our basic training that most of us would have difficulty 
imagining the effect on our psychic and emotional life of a more 
permissive attitude. What has happened is that this training has 
created a kind of moral attitude towards our body products. 
Sphincter morality, as Ferenczi has called it, extends to more 
than the control of urine and feces. To some extent genital prod- 

Effects of Derogatory Attitude Towards Female Sexuality 417 

ucts come also under the Idea of sphincter morality. Obviously 
this especially has an influence on attitudes towards the female 
genitals where no sphincter control is possible. My attention was 
first called to this by a paper written in German by Bertram 
Lewin twenty years ago. 6 In this paper he presented, among other 
things, clinical data hi which the menses were compared to an 
unwanted loss of feces and urine due to lack of sphincter control. 
In one case which he reported the woman had become very pro- 
ficient at contracting the vaginal muscles so that she attained 
some semblance of control of the quantity of menstrual flow. 
Although in my own practice I have never encountered a patient 
who actually tried to produce a sphincter, I have frequent evi- 
dence that the inability not only to control menstruation but all 
secretions of the female genitals has contributed to a feeling of 
unaccept ability and dirtiness. One patient on being presented by 
her mother with a perineal napkin on the occasion of her first 
menses refused to use it. To her it meant a baby's diaper, and she 
felt completely humiliated. Obviously she presently felt even 
more humiliated because of the inevitable consequences of her 

Also because of the culture's overevaluation of cleanliness 
another attribute of the female genital can be a source of dis- 
tress, that is, the fact that it has an odor. Thus one of the chief 
means by which the female attracts the male among animals has 
been labelled unpleasant, to many even disgusting. For example, 
a female patient whose profession requires her appearing before 
audiences has been greatly handicapped for many years by a feel- 
ing of being "stinking" which is greatly augmented whenever she 
is in a position to have her body observed. Thus she can talk 
over the radio but not before an audience. Another patient felt 
for years that she could never marry because she would not be 
able to keep her body clean at every moment in the presence of 
her husband. Whenever she had a date with a man she prepared 
for it by a very vigorous cleansing of the genitals especially try- 
ing to make them dry. When she finally had sexual relations she 
was surprised and greatly helped in her estimation of her body 

6 B. Lewin, "Kotschmieren, Menses und weibliches iiber-Ich/' Internal. 
Zschr. Psychoanal. (1930) 16:43-56. 

418 Clara Thompson 

by discovering that this highly prized dryness was just the oppo- 
site of what was pleasing to the man. 

In two cases the feeling of genital unacceptability had been a 
factor in promiscuity. In each case an experience with a man who 
kissed her genitals in an obviously accepting way was the final 
step in bringing about a complete transformation of feeling. In 
both cases all need to be promiscuous disappeared, and each of 
the women felt loved for the first time. 

I am obviously oversimplifying these cases in order to make 
my point clear. I do not wish to leave the impression that the 
feeling of dirtiness connected with the genitals was the sole cause 
of a feeling of unacceptability in these patients. There was in 
each case a feeling from early childhood of not being acceptable, 
produced by specific attitudes in the parents. The feeling of 
unacceptability became focused on the genitals eventually for 
different reasons in each case. For example, in three cases the 
woman had risen above the lowly social position of her parents 
and with each of these three women the feeling of having dirty 
genitals became symbolic of her lowly origin of which she was 
ashamed. The parents had not placed such an emphasis on baths 
as they found to be the case in the new social milieu. Therefore 
any evidence of body secretion or odor betrayed them, and this 
made sex itself evidence of lower-class origin. On the other hand 
two other patients suffered from their own mothers' overem- 
phasis on body cleanliness. In each of these two cases the mother 
was cold and puritanical as well as overclean, and the patient 
felt humiliated because she had a more healthy sexual drive which 
she felt was proclaimed to the world by her body's odors and 

From these observations I hope I have emphasized the fact 
that the problem of a woman's sexual life is not in becoming 
reconciled to having no penis but in accepting her own sexuality 
in its own right. In this she is hampered by certain attitudes in 
the culture such as that her sexual drive is not important and her 
genitals are not clean. With these two deprecatory cultural atti- 
tudes in the background of women's lives it is to be expected that 
both are important points at which difficulties in interpersonal 
relations may be expressed, 



Goals of Treatment 

Psychoanalysis is primarily a method of treatment. Since this is 
so, it ought to be a simple matter to state its goal, namely the 
regaining of mental health, both in terms of symptoms and char- 
acter structure. However, the goals have not been generally so 
stated. For Freud, they were the making conscious of the uncon- 
scious, the removal of the infantile amnesia, and the overcoming 
of resistances. The difficulty with such a formulation of thera- 
peutic goals is that it makes them dependent upon the validity of 
the theory and removes them from the human being who is the 

An attempt to formulate the essential goal of treatment in 
terms of the patient is made in the paper by Balint. To put it 
simply, the goal of therapy is to regain the ability to love others, 
a capacity which is notably impaired in the mentally ill It has 
the advantage that it does not depend on the validity of any 
particular theory, but on what is generally agreed to be a need 
and capacity of mankind. Further, it does not impel the thera- 
pist to work in the direction of a goal, such as the removal of 
the infantile amnesia, which adequate experience has now shown 
does not cause cure, but which may be a by-product of cure. 

Since psychoanalysis is a process in which both the therapist 
and patient engage, an understanding of their relationship through 
its various vicissitudes is part of any formulation of goals. This 
process, which Alexander calls the corrective emotional experi- 
ence, is one of the analyst's most useful therapeutic devices, and 
the technical resources at his command are described in Alex- 
ander's paper. 

A view of the goals of constructive therapy is given by Rank. 



The Final Goal of 
Psycho-Analytic Treatment* 

One can confidently describe psycho-analytic treatment as a 
natural process of development in the patient. If, then, I inquire 
into the final goal of our therapy, I do not mean by this a pre- 
scribed final state, which, deduced from some philosophical, 
religious, moral, sociological, or even biological premise, requires 
that everyone should "get well" according to its particular model. 
I ask rather: is our clinical experience sufficient to define the 
final goal, or at least the final direction of this natural develop- 

There are special cases particularly suitable for this inquiry. 
I am thinking of those people who like Freud's famous Wolf- 
man break off the analysis with only partial results, and then, 
after an interval of years, continue the treatment, possibly with 
another analyst. The resumed work offers a very favourable 
opportunity for a fresh investigation of the former non-adjusted 
obstacles, and a cure in such a case supplies the proof that it 
was precisely those obstacles that had previously blocked the 
way to recovery. 1 

* Read before the Thirteenth International Psycho-analytical Congress, 
Lucerne, 1934. First published in German in Int. Z.f. Psa. (1935), 21, 36-45. 
In English: Int. /. of PsA. (1936), 17, 206-16. Reprinted from Primary Love 
and Psycho-Analytic Technique by Michael Balint, published by Liveright 
Publishing Corp. 

1 I do not believe, in fact, that smoothly running cases, which terminate 
without complications, can offer much for our purpose. First of all, in these 


424 Michael Balint 

A case of this kind first set before me the problem of how 
our patients become cured and what is really the final goal of 
psycho-analytic treatment. As the case offers nothing of special 
interest apart from this, I will mention here only what is of 
importance for the formulation of our problem. The man in 
question, who was well on in his forties and whose illness pre- 
sented a picture in which phobic and obsessional neurotic features 
were originally to the fore, had already undergone some four 
years of thorough analysis. When, after an interval of two further 
years, he came to me since he was not able to return to his 
former analyst, his neurosis had taken the form of a fairly serious 
conversion-hysteria. We worked some further 500 hours together. 
The analysis came to an end two years ago, and the result is one 
of the best in my practice. Now this was attained without any- 
thing new that is worth mentioning being brought to light from 
the unconscious. Everything had already been partly remembered, 
partly reconstructed, in the previous analysis, and during this 
second period of work, which was certainly very intensive, and 
also successful, no change occurred in the picture, already 
familiar to the patient, of his infantile and subsequent course of 
development. In spite of this and I can assert it without exag- 
geration the man was cured during this time. 

I would remark at once that this is not an exceptional case. 
Ever since this case taught me to pay attention to such processes 
I have been able regularly to observe that in all cases where the 
analysis was deep enough, the final phase turns out similarly. In 
the last months fresh material is only rarely made conscious, and 
infantile incidents which were not already known or had till then 
remained unconscious are hardly ever brought to light. Neverthe- 

cases one can never be quite sure whether our therapeutic work did not 
merely set going some mechanism which remains hidden from us, and 
whether the patients did not recover with the help of this to us unknown 
process. Secondly, it often happens that one can only observe the result and 
not the process of recovery. We can learn far more from an analysis that does 
not run smoothly. Firstly, one is, of necessity, bound to reflect more upon it; 
in a difficult case one notices a problem much sooner than in those where 
results are easily obtained. Secondly, an obstinate, unchanging obstacle, on 
which the treatment comes to grief, is more easily perceived than the very 
subtle changes which finally bring about recovery. 

The Final Goal of Psycho- Andy tic Treatment 425 

less, during this time something very important must have hap- 
pened to our patients, for before it they were still ill, and during: 
it they became well. I know that all this is already familiar; it 
was precisely such observations that supplied the material for 
the concept of "working through." But that concept, or, more- 
correctly, the clinical factors on which that concept is based, were- 
not adequately taken into consideration by the different investiga- 
tors when they attempted to describe the goal of psycho-analytic 
treatment. For this reason all the descriptions proposed have 
fallen short. 

One group of these descriptions of the final goal deals only 
with the structural changes in the mind; this we may call the 
classical group. The other lays stress on the dynamic or the 
emotional factor; this could be called the romantic group. All 
descriptions of the first group derive from Freud. According to 
him the goal of the treatment was the making conscious of the 
unconscious, or, the removal of infantile amnesia, or, the over- 
coming of the resistances. The three descriptions are almost 
synonymous. In my opinion they go too far. As we have seen in 
the case described, after a certain point in the treatment no really 
new material came to light, nothing worth mentioning could be 
added to the picture of the development in early childhood, and 
in spite of this the neurosis was cured. On the other hand, it is 
generally known that even analysed people still dream, and that 
dream analysis encounters resistance with them also. Conse- 
quently, even after the end of an analysis, at least so much re-- 
mains unconscious in the mind as is necessary for dream forma- 
tion, and enough resistance unresolved to be able to disturb a. 
dream-analysis considerably. Others, also, have surely had the 
experience that after a finished analysis, months or even years 
later, patients suddenly remember fragments of their infantile 
history. Often we had already been able to reconstruct these in ; 
the analysis, so that the suddenly emerging memories are only 
a confirmation of the analytic work; sometimes, however, these 
pieces bring to light material which was never even suspected and 
never used in the analysis, and though these pieces fit in well 
with the known picture they are none the less quite new. These 

426 Michael Balint 

three descriptions of the final goal of the treatment consist there- 
fore of attributes which, to use mathematical terminology, are 
neither necessary nor sufficient. 

Now let us turn to the second group of descriptions. They 
are all either paraphrases or more precise restatements of the 
old description which dates from the time of catharsis. Accord- 
ing to this the final goal of our therapeutic efforts is "the abre- 
acting of the strangulated affects" This is doubtless correct but 
it is stated too generally. We have as yet no means of telling 
whether all the strangulated affects have in fact been dealt with, 
nor whether those already dealt with suffice for a cure. Since the 
theoretical clarifications of the repetition factor, not a few at- 
tempts have been made to arrive at some more precise criterion 
for judging this point. Ferenczi and Rank describe the goal as 
"the complete reproduction of the Oedipus relation in analytic 
experience" 2 Since we know how complicated the early infantile 
Oedipus relation is, this description, though it doubtless signifies 
a notable advance, seems to say too much. Rank claims the final 
goal to be "the abreacting of the birth trauma" 3 So much has 
already been written on the merits and defects of this theory, 
that further criticism is superfluous. V. Kovacs's formulation, 
"the unwinding of the repetition factor" 4 emphasises, in contrast 
to the two previous ones, the dynamics of the curative process, 
but is still too generally stated. W. Reich conies to almost the 
same conclusions as I. 5 But he gives as the final goal "the attain- 
ing of full genitality, of orgastic potency." This is partly correct; 
nobody is healthy who lacks the capacity for a regular periodic 
orgasm. If I have understood him rightly, however, he seeks to 
explain by means of the vague concept of "constitution" the cases 
in which, in spite of a deep analysis, orgastic potency cannot be 
reached. On the other hand, most of us have seen, and even ob- 
served analytically, more than one person who, in spite of perfect 
orgastic potency, is decidedly neurotic. 

Since the descriptions already proposed do not entirely satisfy 

2 EntwicIcJungsziele der Psychoanalyse, Int. PsA. Verlag, Wien, 1924, p. 

8 Das Trauma der Geburt, Int. PsA. Verlag, Wien, 1924. 
* "Wiederholungstendenz und Charalcterbildimg, Jut. Z. f. Psa. (1931), 17, 
5 CharaJcteranalyse, 1933. 

The Final Goal of Psycho- Analytic Treatment 427 

us, I shall venture to discuss this question on the basis of the 
views which I put forward at Wiesbaden. 6 I have been able regu- 
larly to observe that in the final phase of the treatment patients 
begin to give expression to long-forgotten, infantile, instinctual 
wishes, and to demand their gratification from their environment. 
These wishes are, at first, only faintly indicated, and their ap- 
pearance often causes resistance, even extreme anxiety. It is 
only after many difficulties have been overcome and by very slow 
degrees that they are openly admitted, and it is not until even 
later that their gratification is experienced as pleasure. I have 
called this phenomenon the "New Beginning," and I believe I 
have established the fact that it occurs just before the end, in all 
sufficiently profound analyses, and that it even constitutes an 
essential mechanism of the process of cure. 

Let us now turn to some criticisms. First, as I remarked at 
Wiesbaden, a single New Beginning is hardly ever enough. On 
the other hand, the patient need not make a New Beginning with 
all of the early instinctual wishes that were important for him. 
Moreover, after the analysis has ended, instincts may remain 
whose gratification brings no pleasure and even causes pain. 

At this point a host of technical questions arise. Assuming that 
with the New Beginning we have in our hands an important 
criterion for the termination of the treatment, then one would 
like to know how many such recurrent waves of New Beginning 
are necessary and sufficient. Further, for which component in- 
stincts is a New Beginning obligatory, for which accidental, and 
finally, for which superfluous? I cannot answer any of these 
questions, and therefore I propose to examine the New Beginning 
more closely; perhaps we shall come to the opinion that these 
questions, however important they may appear to us now, do 
not arise from the actual facts of the case, and are therefore 

Since all these phenomena appear only in the last phase of 
the treatment, and since, unfortunately, not a few analyses have 
to be broken off on practical grounds before this phase is 
reached, it was naturally some time before I became aware of a 

a "Charakteranalyse und Neubeginn," Int. Z f. Psa. (1934), 20. ("Charac- 
ter Analysis and New Beginning.") 

428 Michael Balint 

significant characteristic of these newly begun pleasurable ac- 
tivities. They are, without exception, directed towards objects. 
This discovery rather surprised me. According to our generally 
accepted theory of today, the first and most primitive phase 
of the libido is auto-erotic. I tried to reconcile my findings with 
'the theory by arguing that the earlier phases of the development 
of the libido (auto-erotism and narcissism) were dealt with in 
the middle period of the treatment. Naturally, then, the carrying- 
-over of the libido to object-relations must remain as a task for 
the final phase. 

But I remained dissatisfied. The activities realised in this New 
Beginning period, as well as its phantasies, were so childish, so 
natural, so absolutely unproblematicat, that I simply could not 
regard them as the final links in a complicated chain of develop- 
ment. And, to go farther we have long known that in analytic 
treatment it is precisely the most deeply hidden, the most primi- 
tive layers that come to light last. Then came another constantly 
repeated observation. As I pointed out at Wiesbaden, after a 
first, and usually very timid, performance of the activity in 
question, a passionate phase habitually follows. The patients are 
seized, as it were, with an addiction. For days on end they can 
simply do nothing else but continually repeat these newly begun 
pleasurable actions, or, at least make phantasies about them. 
This is a dangerous situation for the continuation of the treat- 
ment. The patients were mostly so happy that they were able to 
deceive themselves and to begin with, I must admit, myself also. 
They feel ultra-healthy, and some made use of this fact, with my 
consent, to break off the treatment. This state of passionate hap- 
piness, resembling that felt by a drug addict, unfortunately does 
not last. As I learnt from a psychologically perceptive patient 
who came back to me, it degenerates into ever more and more 
'extensive demands which at last can no longer be satisfied by 
any real object. The end is an intensified narcissism with over- 
weening pride, self-importapse and outstanding selfishness, veiled 
by superficial politeness and insincere modesty. (Perhaps this 
provides an explanation for the very similar behaviour of real 

If, however, both patient and analyst hold out, this passionate 

The Final Goal of Psycho-Analytic Treatment 429 

phase passes and in its place a true object-relation, adjusted to 
reality, develops before our eyes. Thus, to put it shortly, there is 
Orst an unmistakably primitive-infantile object-relation, and this 
if not rightly understood and treated ends in unrealisable 
demands and a narcissistic state, very disagreeable for the whole 
environment (as is the case with a spoiled child) ; if rightly guided, 
however, it gives way to a relation without conflicts for the 
subject as well as for those around him. These observations do 
not harmonise at all with the usual doctrine of the analytical 
libido theory, according to which auto-erotism should be the 
primal state of sexuality. A solution of this discrepancy can only 
be offered by a theoretical picture which is able, at the same 
time, to explain both the former theory of libidinal development, 
founded on innumerable clinical data, as well as these latter ob- 
servations. This solution I found not only suggested but already 
to a considerable extent built up by Ferenczi. 

In his favourite work Thalassa he describes a process which 
he calls the development of the erotic sense of reality. He sets 
forth three stages whose goal always remains the same, and 
which are distinguished only in that they strive to reach this 
common goal by different ways, better and better adjusted to 
reality. This goal is the return to the mother's womb (according 
to Ferenczi the primal aim of all human sexuality) and the three 
stages are: passive object-love, the auto-plastic or masturbating 
phase and finally the alloplastic phase, or, as I should like to call 
it active object-love. 

What is important for our problem is that the child, as 
Ferenczi has often pointed out, lives in a libidinal object-relation 
from the very beginning, and without this libidinal object-rela- 
tion simply cannot exist; this relation is, however, passive. The 
child does not love but is loved. For a time the fostering outer 
world can fulfill its requirements; but with advancing age these 
become ever greater, more numerous and more difficult of reali- 
sation, so that some time or other real frustration is bound to 
come. The child replies to this with well-founded hate and aggres- 
siveness, and with a turning away from reality, i.e. with an 
introversion of his love. If upbringing does not work against 
this change of direction, i.e. does not attempt to bind the child 

430 Michael Balint 

to reality with enough love, there follows the period of auto-erotic 
distribution of the libido, the period of various self-gratifications, 
of defiant self-sufficiency. In my opinion the "anal-sadistic" and 
"phallic phases," i.e. the observed forms of object-relations, 
theoretically comprised under these concepts, are artefacts. They 
do not represent stages or even points in the normal development 
of psychosexual relations to the outer world; they are not in any 
respect normal phenomena, but where they can be observed 
they point to a considerably disturbed development. They are 
signs of a rather sharp deflection in the normal psychosexual 
relations to the outer world, occasioned by a consistently unsuit- 
able influence on the part of the environment above all, by a 
lack of understanding in upbringing. 

1 have already given further evidence in support of this seem- 
ingly bold assertion before the Budapest Psycho- Analytical So- 
ciety, and I hope to be able to publish them shortly in a separate 
paper. 7 Here I will only quote two passages from Freud. He 
shows in his Introductory Lectures that many component instincts 
of sexuality (such as sadism, for instance) possess an object from 
the very beginning. He continues: "Others, more plainly con- 
nected with particular erotogenic areas in the body, only have an 
object in the beginning, so long as they are still dependent upon 
the non-sexual functions and give it up when they become de- 
tached from these latter." Oral erotism is here referred to. The 
other passage runs: "The oral impulse becomes auto-erotic, as 
the anal and other erotogenic impulses are from the beginning. 
Further development has, to put it as concisely as possible, two 
aims: first, to renounce auto-erotism, to give up again the object 
found in the child's own body in exchange again for an external 
one." (What follows does not relate to our present theme.) 8 Here 
it is explicitly declared that the oral instinct, which has hitherto 
served in theoretical discussions as the perfect example, as it 
were, of auto-erotism, passes through a stage of object-relation- 
ship at its very outset. What was new in my Budapest paper 
was the attempt to build up a theory which should take into 

7 "Critical Notes on the Theory of the Pregenital Organisations of the 
Libido," this vol., p. 49. 

8 Introductory Lectures on Psycho-analysis, G. Allen and Unwin, London, 
Fifth edn., 1936, pp. 276-7. (The italics are mine.) 

The Final Goal of Psycho-Analytic Treatment 431 

account this fact, which is generally known but has never been 
fully appreciated. 

According to this theory, all instincts, including those origi- 
nally described as auto-erotic, are primarily bound to objects. 9 
This primitive object-relation is always passive. This passive 
primal aim of human sexuality the desire to be gratified, or, 
the desire to be loved is preserved throughout life. Reality, 
unavoidable frustration from without, forces man into by-paths, 
and he has to be content with these. One by-path is auto- 
erotism, narcissism: if the world does not gratify me, does not 
love me enough, I must gratify and love myself. The other 
by-path is active object-love; this attains the original aim better, 
but at a sacrifice. We love and gratify our partner (this is the 
sacrifice) so that in the end we may be gratified and loved by 
him in return. 

If all this is true, then it is easily intelligible that every New 
Beginning has to take place in an object-relation. One cause of 
neurosis is always real frustration. Usually the analyst under- 
estimates the importance of this cause, because its counterpart 
in the aetiological complemental series, the endogenic factor, 
is continually pushed into the foreground by the analytic work. 
What we work at for months, even years, are the structural 
defects of the soul, the torn connections, the psychical material 
that was rendered incapable of becoming conscious. But one 
thing we should never forget is that all these defects of develop- 
ment, which we group under the collective name of "the re- 
pressed," were originally forced into that state by external 
influences. That is to say, there is no repression without reality, 
without an object-relation. It is to the lasting credit of Ferenczi 
that, in the years during which interest was centred upon what 
was called "ego-psychology" and upon the investigation of mental 
structure, he never tired of continually stressing the importance 
of external factors. 

How necessary this was, and still is, I will show by a single 
example, and for this purpose I have chosen from among many 

e I may refer here to a paper on "The Development of the Capacity for 
Love and the Sense of Reality," by Alice Balint (published in Hungarian at 
Budapest in 1933) in which the author anticipated me in arriving at almost 
the same results by a different path. 

432 Michael Balint 

other works one that can well bear criticism, since its excellent 
qualities are very generally recognized. I refer to Melanie Klein's 
illuminating book. 10 

If we turn to the index of that work we shall look in vain for 
the following words: lack of understanding in upbringing, 
parental sadism, unkindness, harshness, spoiling, want of love, 
and the like. It is a remarkable fact that the word "love" is itself 
absent. 11 (This word is absent too in the index to Fenichei's 
Hysteric und Zwangsneurose.) This corresponds to another fea- 
ture of the book: the prominence which it gives to the structural 
factor and the innate constitution. I will give one example. 
Everywhere in the book (as well as in her Lucern Congress 
paper) Mrs. Klein speaks of the split "good" and "bad" mother 
imagos which the child creates in order to have an object always 
at hand for his constitutionally intensified sadism. Naturally, 
then, he must always be afraid of the vengeance of these hated 
and maltreated "bad" imagos. But could it not perhaps be put 
in this way that in the eyes of the child his parents are capri- 
cious beings who, quite unaccountably, are sometimes bad to him 
and sometimes good? And the more neurotic the behaviour of 
the parents the harder is the task of adjustment for the child, 
who, in the end, has no choice but to treat his mother, for in- 
stance, as two fundamentally different beings. Sometimes the 
"fairy" is there, and sometimes the "witch." The fear of venge- 
ance would then be revealed as a fear determined by reality, 
and the "constitutionally" intense sadism as the effect of lack of 
understanding in upbringing. That something in my assumption 
is true is shown precisely by the success of child analysis. With 
an understanding upbringing on the part of a mother imago who 
does not behave neurotically I am thinking of Mrs. Klein the 
way to adjustment is opened to the child. I am of the opinion that 
it is a pity to stop at the structural defects of the mind; our 
path can lead us still farther, namely to errors of upbringing or, 
as Ferenczi expressed it in his Wiesbaden paper, to the "con- 
fusion of tongues" between the adults and the child. 

10 The Psycho-analysis of Children- Int. PsA. Lfbr, London, 1932. 

11 Naturally all these subjects are discussed, but the fact that they are absent 
from the index is of symptomatic importance. (The remarks in the text apply, 
pf course, to the index of the German edition.) 

The Final Goal of Psycho- Analytic Treatment 433 

Now we can understand also why the question as to the neces- 
sary number and origin of the newly begun gratifications turned 
out to be unanswerable. The question arose from a way of think- 
ing that had become schematic and not from the actual facts of 
the case. It is not particular component instincts that must be 
begun anew but object-love itself. 

With the help of these reflections I believe I have been able to 
formulate the final goal of psycho-analytic treatment more ex- 
actly. A person becomes ill because, from his childhood, he has 
been treated with more or less lack of understanding by those 
around him. Gratifications were denied him which were neces- 
sary to him, whereas others were forced on him which were 
superfluous, unimportant or even harmful. Kis mind, moreover, 
had to submit to external force: it had to build up various struc- 
tures and, above all, what we call a super-ego, in order to make 
him able automatically to avoid conflicts with his reality. He 
comes to us; we co-operate in a study of his biological and mental 
structure, and try to bring this into connection with his conscious 
and primal history. Finally he understands his own nature, and 
also the long and painful process through which he was formed 
into the man he now knows. Many people who were not too 
severely damaged in their object-relation are content with the 
relief which comes with consciousness, with the accompanying 
better control of their actions and the extended capacity for 
pleasure. As the work progresses they become slowly, almost 
imperceptibly healthy. With them the real end phase of the 
treatment is absent, or, at most, is merely indicated. 

With the others, however, who were made to suffer severely 
from the "confusion of tongues," whose capacity for love was 
artificially wholly stunted by lack of understanding in their up- 
bringing, quite a peculiar situation finally arises. Everything turns 
on one decision. Shall one regard all past suffering as over and 
done with, settle accounts with the past for good, and, in the 
last resort, try to make the best use of what possibilities there 
are in the life still lying ahead? This decision to begin to love 
really anew is far from easy. Here the analyst can help consider- 
ably. Right interpretations are Important; by them he shows that 
he understands his ward and will not treat him with lack of un- 

434 Michael Balim 

derstanding as was once the case. The most important thing 
here, however, is that one should take notice of the timid at- 
tempts, often only extremely feebly indicated, towards the New 
Beginning of the object-relation and not frighten them off. One 
should never forget that the beginnings of object-libido pursue 
passive aims and can only be brought to development through the 
tactful and, in the literal sense of the word, "lovable" behaviour 
of the object. And even later one must treat these newly begun 
relations indulgently so that they may find their way to reality and 
active love. 

Unfortunately not everyone can achieve this decision for a 
New Beginning of love. There are people who cannot give up 
demanding ever fresh compensation from the whole world for 
all the wrong ever done them, who know, indeed, that such 
behaviour is obsessive, and at the present time quite unreal 
simply a transference but, nevertheless, cannot give it up, who 
want only to be loved and are not able to give love. On a few 
occasions, though not often, I have come to this point with pa- 
tients, and have not been able to bring them farther. These iso- 
lated cases, which incidentally, showed considerable improvement, 
but which 1 was not able to cure, forced me to recognise the 
limits of my therapeutic powers. With my present technique I 
can only cure such people as, in the course of the analytic work, 
can acquire the ability to attempt to begin to love anew. How 
those few others are to be helped I do not at present see. But I 
do not believe that we need let ourselves be defeated by the con- 
stitutional factors. Ferenczi always used to say that as long as a 
patient is willing to continue the treatment, a way must be found 
to help him. Those who knew his way of working know that with 
him this was no empty phrase. He made many experiments, and 
he also succeeded in helping many who had already been given 
up by others as hopeless. Unfortunately not all. The old proverb 
has proved true again: ars longa, vita brevis. It is the duty of the 
pupils to carry on the work which the master began. 

I am at the end of my paper. I believe I have shown that it 
was one-sided to base our theories and our way of thinking prin- 
cipally on structural considerations and on the instinctual consti- 
tution. Without wishing to detract from the great achievement 

The Final Goal of Psycho- Analytic Treatment 435 

of the researches made in this direction, I have endeavoured to 
point out that the study of loving object-relations, which has been 
gravely neglected in recent years, can contribute much towards 
the understanding of the human mind and towards the improve- 
ment of our therapeutic powers. In my opinion there is today too 
much talk about constitutionally determined sadism and maso- 
chism in analytical theory. Thus the motto of my paper would 
#un: less sadism and more love. 



Analysis of the Therapeutic Factors 
in Psychoanalytic Treatment* 

Observations made during the therapeutic procedure are the 
primary source of psychoanalytic knowledge. Most of our knowl- 
edge of psychodynamics stems from this source. Precise under- 
standing of the therapeutic factors is significant hoth for im- 
proving our therapeutic techniques and also for increasing our 
theoretical knowledge. Between theory and therapy there is a 
reciprocal relationship: observations made during treatment are 
the main source of our theoretical knowledge, and we apply our 
theoretical formulations to improve our technique. 

This presentation is based on the premise that much in our 
therapeutic procedure is still empirical, and that many of the 
processes which take place in patients during psychoanalysis are 
not yet fully understood. 

In particular, there is divergence of opinion concerning 1, the 
relative therapeutic value of the patient's intellectual insight into 
the origin and nature of his neurosis; 2, the relative value of 
emotional discharge (abreaction) ; 3, the role of emotional experi- 
ences during treatment as they evolve in the transference; 4, the 
role of parallel experiences in life; 5, the significance of the time 
factor (frequency of interviews, technical interruptions, length 
of the treatment) . The last question is practical and the answer 

* Reprinted by permission from the Psychoanalytic Quarterly, Vol. 19, pp. 
482-500, 1950. Copyright 1950 by The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, Inc. 


Therapeutic Factors in Psychoanalytic Treatment 437 

to it depends both on clinical experience and on the clarification 
of the first four. 

One of the basic observations on which Freud's theoretical 
structure was built was the therapeutic value of emotional abre- 
action in hypnosis. Emotionally charged, forgotten memories 
appeared with dramatic expression of the repressed emotions. 
Substituting barbiturates for hypnosis, this principle was widely 
applied to war neuroses during and after the recent war. 

The second step was the recognition that abreaction alone has 
no permanent curative value; that the ego must face and learn 
to handle the repressed emotions. The emphasis was on insight. 
There followed then the period in which Freud's therapeutic 
interest was focused on reconstructing the traumatic events of the 
past and making the patient understand and remember them. 
Reconstructions and interpretations of past pertinent events had 
to be understood and accepted by the patients in order to be 

The third step was the discovery of the transference which 
shifted the emphasis again to emotional experience and expres- 
sion. This is, of course, an oversimplification. Actually, abreac- 
tion, insight and transference have long been considered in their 
interrelationships, and only the emphasis has changed from time 
to time with different authors. One element, however, was com- 
mon to all these views: the insistence upon the necessity of mak- 
ing repressed material conscious. In hypnosis, repressed material 
was mobilized by reducing the ego's defenses. During the period 
in which free association was used, but before the importance of 
the transference was clearly recognized, the therapist's intellectual 
understanding was imparted to the patient in the hope that this 
intellectual insight would enable the patient to face what he 
repressed. The recognition of the transference led to a better 
understanding of the therapeutic processes as well as a more 
effective therapy. In the transference, the original pathogenic 
conflicts of the early family relationships are repeated with lesser 
intensity. This is what is called the "transference neurosis." The 
emotional re-enactment in relation to the therapist of the crucial 
conflicts gradually increases the ego's capacity to face these con- 

438 Franz Alexander 

flicts. One may say, it increases the ego's permeability to the 
repressed material. Freud's formulation was that in the transfer- 
ence the stronger adult ego faces the same but less intensive 
conflicts which the weaker infantile ego had to repress. This 
dynamic equation represents the essence of our present views of 
therapy: in childhood the weak ego faces overwhelming emo- 
tions; in the transference the adult's stronger ego faces a weaker 
edition of the original conflict. Accordingly, the treatment ulti- 
mately aims at changing the ego to enable it to resolve conflicts 
with which it could not cope before. The method by which this 
change in the ego is achieved is a kind of gradual learning through 
practice by exposing the ego, step by step, to conflicts as they 
emerge in the course of treatment. At the same time the defenses 
of the ego against repressed material are reduced by making them